24th November, 2020

Are You Sitting On The Biggest Office Health Hazard?

It might not seem dangerous, but sitting down for long periods is linked to weight gain, diabetes and even early death. As now many more jobs are desk-based, it's important to recognise this health hazard in our offices. With some simple easy controls (and a little effort) we can reduce the risk.

Are You Sitting On The Biggest Office Health Hazard? header image

Sitting for too long is bad for you. It's very bad for you. A scientific study in 2018 estimated that up to 70,000 deaths each year in the UK could be prevented if we avoided 'prolonged sedentary behaviour', like sitting down at work for 8 hours a day! For comparison, around 78,000 people die each year in the UK from smoking.

Of course, these figures are shocking. And sitting has been branded the new smoking based on the health risks uncovered in this and other research. Is sitting the new smoking? Well, no, not quite. Let's bear in mind, sitting isn't an addiction or a danger to others. But too much sitting (and not enough moving) can have a devastating impact on your health, and your life.

Sitting is something most of us do at home and work. With the rise of technology over the past 30 years, computers have become commonplace in our work environments. How many of us are sitting down right now, as we work online or browse the internet? Many jobs have become more desktop-based, and more and more of us are sitting for most of our working day.

Sitting for long periods is known to slow down your metabolism, which is linked to weight gain, diabetes and some types of cancer. So if you're sitting comfortably, maybe it's time to stand up and take notice of the impact sitting for too long can have on your health.

The link between illness and sitting first emerged in the 1950s, when researchers found double-decker bus drivers were twice as likely to have heart attacks as their bus conductor colleagues. The drivers sat for 90 per cent of their shifts, the conductors climbed about 600 stairs each working day.

Before you leap up from your chair, sitting isn't bad for you, but sitting still for too long just isn't what the human body was designed for. You can sit safely, but it is much better for you to move, and move often. But if jobs are more desk-based in general, and we need to sit more for work, what can we do about it? Unlike other bad habits, like smoking or drinking too much, we can't quit sitting. And I can't imagine any Sitters Anonymous groups starting up anytime soon!

sitting at a desk

While we can't quit sitting, and we probably wouldn't want too, and we certainly don't need to. We can cut back on sitting and move more. If you spend most of your day at your desk, you might simply assume that your job is desk-based and needs to be done sitting down, all of the time. But does it really? For example, if you take calls at work, you could choose to stand up during phone calls. Or could a standing desk be used so you can spend some parts of your day on your feet? Some people even use a treadmill at the desk, but you don't have to go that far.

If you are working from behind a desk regularly, here are some ideas to help you get moving at work:

Here are some quick exercises you can do at your desk (deskercises!), to give you a stretch and give your body a break from the same old sitting position:

Arm Pulses

Stand up with your arms down at your sides. Pulse both arms backwards for 30 seconds.

Wall Push-Ups

Stand leaning towards a wall with your arms straight (but not locked). Keeping your body in a straight line, lower yourself towards to wall and back again. Repeat 20 times.

Neck Rolls

It's not just about exercise, but keeping mobile too! Slowly and gently roll your head clockwise for 15 seconds. Repeat anti-clockwise.

Chair Squats

Stand up from your chair. Lower back down, but stop before you sit down, and stand back up again. Repeat 15 times.

Chair Twists

You don't even need to stand up for this one. Hold on to the edge of your desk and use your core to twist your chair from side to side (swivel chair required). Repeat 10 times.

Arm Circles

Stand with your arms outstretched to the sides at shoulder height. Move your arms in small circles. 20 times forwards, and 20 times backwards.

Leg Lifts

Another exercise that you can do while sitting, but still gets you moving. Sit with your back straight, and raise one foot off the floor, then the other. For an extra challenge, lift both at the same time!

Shoulder Stretch

Clasp your hands together and push your arms up towards the ceiling, palms facing upwards. Hold for 10 seconds.

Calf Raises

Stand up and use your chair or a wall for support, as you raise your heels off the floor until you are standing on your toes. Repeat 15 times.

Walk On The Spot

Tied to your desk in a long conference call, or a task you simply can't walk away from? Try walking on the spot. You could also jog on the spot but perhaps panting down the phone won't leave a great impression!

Repetitions are a given as a guide, you should only exercise within your own comfort zone. Don't push yourself hard, this isn't a high intensity work out!


You're not a machine, so don't try to work like one. Staying mobile throughout the day can give you more energy, and keep you feeling productive.

Are you using display screen equipment at work? Use the DSE assessment form to create your DSE assessment in minutes!

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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