Ground-breaking research on the impact of sitting on our health from Leicester Biomedical Research Centre has led to the creation of the SMART Work programme, the UK’s first evidence-based free resource kit to encourage desk-based workers to sit less and move more often throughout the day.
The SMART Work team is led by Dr Charlotte Edwardson at the University of Leicester, Dr Fehmidah Munir at Loughborough University and Dr Sophie O’Connell at Leicester’s Hospitals.
Dr Edwardson said: “When we measure how much time people spend sitting each day with small body-worn accelerometers, we find on average people sit for around 9-10 hours per day. Our research has shown that people who spend a large proportion of their day sitting are at a greater risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and dying early compared to those who don’t and initially it was thought that this was independent of the amount of exercise people did, which was worrying.
“More recently we’ve come to understand that doing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity may reduce the risk associated with high sitting time, but it may require anywhere between 30-75 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day.”
Many people are unable to reach activity goals and are sedentary due to work and travel constraints. In 2019, it was suggested that spending a large proportion of the day sitting down cost the NHS around £700 million per year.
The researchers began looking at ways to alleviate some of the risks associated with sitting. They found that reducing sitting time by incorporating short (5 minutes) but frequent (every 30 minutes) bouts of light activity, such as standing, walking or arm exercises, considerably improved markers of cardiometabolic health such as glucose, insulin and blood pressure. This led to the development of the SMART Work programme.
During the evaluation of SMART Work, the team were able to demonstrate the health benefits from sitting less and standing a little bit more throughout the day and show a potential return on investment of £3 on every £1 spent as a result of increased productivity, resulting in a net-saving of £1770.32 per employee.
Dr Edwardson said: “In the programme there are resources aimed at managers such as a business case to sell the benefits of the programme, resources aimed at workplace champions to be able to co-ordinate a full roll-out of the programme within their team or organisation, and resources for individual staff.”
Michelle Burn, an administrator at Leicester’s Hospitals, has used the SMART Work programme resources. She said: “I never imagined such a simple, easy change like a rising desk could make such a difference. I feel so much more energised now, and have less leg pain in the evenings. My mood has massively improved too.
“Being involved in the SMART Work practices has really opened my eyes to the health risks I didn’t even know existed! It has been really easy to incorporate more standing into my day, like walking to talk to a colleague instead of emailing, putting folders and phones out of reach, or even standing instead of sitting whilst waiting for the kettle to boil! It all adds up to a healthier body and healthier mind!”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the focus of research is now turning towards working from home and home sitting.
Dr Edwardson said: “While we have made significant inroads in changing attitudes when it comes to workplace sitting, we still have a long way to go to get that message across when it comes to sitting at home. This is especially important as working from home becomes routine, and people begin to move much less than they were before.”
You can find out more about SMART Work and access the free resources at www.smartworkandlife.co.uk