Research by health organization ukactive shows that workplace commitments and the ties of being deskbound are having a negative impact on the nation’s fitness levels, linking sitting to health worries such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, some cancers and back, neck and muscle pain. 

NHS guidelines currently recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity a week but Office Fitness suggests we should add 300 low activity minutes a day focused around work.

Activity levels broadly fall into 3 distinct categories - Low, Moderate and Vigorous.  Low activity gets you to about 40-50% of your maximum heart rate (being able to sing and talk easily), moderate is slightly out of breath (talking, no singing) with vigorous very out of breath (no singing or talking). The NHS has guidelines for the latter two; 75 minutes for vigorous, 150 minutes for moderate but nothing for low level. The Mayo Clinic defines this area as NEAT Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis which means more than sedentary but less (activity) than exercise.  Given the rise of a physically inactive service sector in the last 50 years and the resulting obesity epidemic, Office Fitness is calling for NHS targets implemented by employers to impose more NEAT activity.

Paul Matthews, Director of Office Fitness, said "We think that 300 minutes of low daily activity equates better to the way we used to live than the current guidelines. Six hours a day may seem a lot but given the eight-hour working day, you could easily stand for two of those hours, sit actively (on a Swiss ball or similar) for another two and then move more generally around the office for the remaining third."

Many people wonder why they put on weight when they are careful with their diet but it’s because they are burning so little energy that just one biscuit a day can lead to obesity given sufficient sedentary months in an office.

“Employers may ask what all this has to do with their workforce. We have countless stories from customers who spend all day on our equipment and rather than feeling tired, they are energised, sharp and productive. When we started seven years ago our message was all about health. Now, it’s all about what exercise does to your mood, your alertness and your productivity. The health benefits are understood but it’s the message about how it motivates that seems most compelling for employers.”

The workplace fitness experts, whose products include standing desks, ball chairs and desk bikes, suggest that while steps to alleviate sedentary working practice tend to come from forward-thinking employees who choose to change their behaviour, the most effective results are seen when employers implement measures to adapt the working environment.

Office Fitness believes the guidelines that would make the most difference are:

  • New NHS targets for low level activity introduced
  • Sitting is no longer the default option at work
  • Active sitting options are promoted
  • Working practices are modified to encourage activity (stairs instead of lifts, less email to colleagues, standing meetings, active working areas etc.)

“It takes some thought and creative thinking to change 50 years of sedentary culture,” says Matthews “but the tide is turning and we can slowly re-introduce activity back into our working lives.”