Sedentary behaviour refers to the time people spend sitting or lying down during their waking hours, whether at work or play.

You might sit in front of a computer screen all day at work, sit in the car to drive home, and then sit down to watch a movie or read a book to relax at the end of the day. That’s a lot of time spent off your feet. Recent studies have shown that sedentary behaviour can be quite damaging to your health.

Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. says: “An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.”

Sitting for long hours is linked to many adverse health effects including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess body fat. The publication Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization concluded:

“Prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.”

This means even if you exercise daily, you could still be at a high risk of health problems due to sitting for long hours every day.

Negative Effects of Sedentary Behaviour

Numerous studies have linked sedentary behaviour to a long list of physical and mental health problems. A study on The Relationship Between Sedentary Behaviour, Back Pain, and Psychosocial Correlates found that sedentary employees are exposed to increasing occupational hazards such as back pain and mental health issues.

Sedentary Behaviour and Heart Disease

Heart disease is any condition that affects the structure or function of the heart. The Heart Foundation says that heart disease is Australia’s biggest killer, claiming 51 Australian lives every day.


Sedentary behaviour is a big contributor to heart health. A study run by Loughborough University and the University of Leicester involving 800,000 participants found that people who sit the most had a 147 percent increase in cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes. How long someone spends sitting on a given day has a direct influence on the development of heart disease.

💗 Learn how to reduce the risk of heart disease by Taking Care of Your Heart Health at Work.

Sedentary Behaviour and Obesity

Sedentary behaviour contributes to obesity, which is very damaging to a person’s health and wellbeing. Obesity increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, several cancers, diabetes, as well as fertility problems and high blood pressure.

In Australia, 63% of Australian adults and 25% of Australian children are considered overweight or obese.

Sedentary Behaviour and Diabetes

Sedentary behaviour has also been linked to the development of diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic disease defined by high levels of glucose in the blood. For the human body to function properly, glucose (sugar) needs to be converted from food into energy. Diabetes occurs when the body has ceased or limited its production of insulin, a hormone that is essential to the conversion process.

The Department of Health says in Australia there are an estimated 1.2 million people aged 2 years and over with diagnosed diabetes. That’s 5.1% of the population.

“A 2015 publication in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that a sedentary lifestyle is linked to a 91% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.” Learn more about the connections between diabetes and sitting from Start Standing, an organisation educating the world about the dangers of extended periods of sitting.

Limit Sedentary Behaviour at Work

With so many hours spent in the workplace, it’s a good spot to begin to limit sedentary behaviour.

For many people, much of their time at work is spent sitting at a desk, often in front of a computer. That’s 40 hours a week, 48 weeks out of the year. Limiting the amount of time you spend sitting at work reduces your risk of developing the numerous health problems caused by sedentary behaviour.

Standing Desks

Standing desks are a simple solution with a big impact. Standing desks can reduce back pain as well as lower the risk of weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes. They can also increase productivity.

As an employer, you can offer employees the option to choose a standing desk over a regular one. If that’s not feasible, you can establish a shared standing office space for employees to work from as they please.

Learn how to properly set up a standing desk.

Standing Meetings

At a standing meeting, attendees stand for part of the meeting or the full duration of it. This action breaks up long hours of sitting at work and it has the dual purpose of drawing attention to the length of your meeting. You can keep a meeting to the point and on task by standing.

As an employer or boss, make this an optional activity, in case anyone has a reason they either can’t or don’t want to participate.

💡 Read How Standing Can Cut Meeting Times By 25%.

Walking Meetings

Walking meetings get people away from their desks, which splits up long hours of sedentary behaviour for office workers. It’s also a good excuse to get outside, which has a number of additional health benefits. Being outside can improve memory, fight depression, and lower blood pressure.

Walking for the duration of your meeting is a great strategy for a small group of people, just two or three. Pick a destination, walk through a nearby park, or take a stroll around the building instead of sitting still in an office or coffee shop.

It’s an ideal opportunity to get up, stretch your legs, and squeeze in a little bit of exercise. The act of walking leads to thinking more creatively, too, so you may find you come up with better ideas while on the go.

As an employer, you can encourage walking meetings to get your employees up from their desks and moving. If you’re meeting with an employee, ask them if they would be interested in walking instead.

💡 Harvard Business Review has some helpful tips on how to do walking meetings right.

Stairs Over Lifts

Choose the stairs over the lift whenever you can. This extra bit of physical activity will break up your sedentary day while helping you stay fit and healthy. Challenge others in your workplace to do the same. Taking the stairs with a colleague is the perfect opportunity to catch up on life, work, or the latest episode of Game of Thrones.


Employers can encourage taking the stairs amongst their staff by rewarding those who do. Consider making it a competition between employees, departments, or building floors. Who took the stairs the most in one month? Or how many days in a row?

Stand or Walk When on Break

When you take a break at work, get up from your desk. Try to avoid browsing the internet or social media sites and instead take a walk outside or even just a stroll around the office. Not only will this give your eyes a much-needed rest after hours spent staring at a screen, but it will get your blood pumping as well. Every little bit counts when it comes to limiting your sedentary behaviour at work.

As an employer, encourage your employees to get away from their desks during break times. Have a clean space for your workforce to take breaks and when the weather is nice, suggest they take those breaks outside. Don’t forget to lead by example. Get away from your own desk from time to time to show your team it’s okay for them to do the same.

Ongoing Employee Health Checks

Routine employee health checks can spot health problems that may arise from prolonged sedentary behaviour.

Employees are the lifeblood of a business. An employee health check is made up of several different check-ups and assessments that help identify potential risk factors for the health of your team. Ongoing health checks also make it clear to your employees that you value their wellbeing, whether that be at work or at home.

Ongoing employee health checks support an aging workforce, reduce illness or injury absenteeism, and improve company morale.

💡 Learn more about the many Benefits of Workplace Employee Health Checks.

Continue Supporting Your Workforce

Increase Motivation in the Workplace by promoting physical wellbeing, supporting small goals, and giving consistent positive reinforcement.

Pre-employment medicals manage workplace risk by ensuring employees can meet the physical demands of a job. Learn more about The Importance of Pre-Employment Medicals and Employer Benefits.

Workforce Health Assessors offers comprehensive pre-employment medicals, pre-placement, and periodic medical assessments tailored to the needs of your business. We organise, perform, and report on all health assessments and medicals to help you determine the suitability of candidates for your business and mitigate risks in the workplace. Our tests are carefully designed and vary depending on the specifications of the role a candidate will fill. Learn more about our pre-employment medical and other health assessment services.

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