By Wendy King

In today’s culture, we spend long periods sitting at desks, working on our computers and talking on phones. We sit while we drive our cars. We sit while we watch television. We actually encourage sitting: When was the last time you were invited to “come in and take a stand”?

The fact is sitting is the new smoking. And when it comes to employees’ health, it’s a development that should be of equal, if not more, concern to employers.

While there is more research on the negative consequences of smoking, here are some of the possible repercussions of our newest bad habit:

  • An elevated risk of colon cancer (two times greater than active people).
  • A greater chance of diabetes as inactivity can stifle insulin effectiveness.
  • Chronic health issues like back and neck pain, carpal tunnel, varicose veins and blood clots, which can be reduced by 54 percent if workers use standing desks.
  • An increased cost to employers of 7 percent by 2020 just from having sedentary (and possibly obese) workers on their payrolls.

These statistics further show that sitting is the new smoking. Smart employers are finding ways to make fixes an integral part of their employees’ everyday workplace routine.

A good place to start is by taking a look at the ideal work pattern. Every half hour should be divided into segments – 20 minutes for sitting, eight for standing in neutral postures, and two for moving and gently stretching. It creates a day where five hours are spent sitting, two, standing, and 30 minutes, moving, with 16 sit-to-stand transitions – that all helps offset the risk of sedentary habits.  

There are varied ways to address the problem. Treadmill desks, for example, may be an option, but they can be pricey at up to $4,500. Standing desks and height conference tables, though, are less costly and also coming into vogue. 

But solutions don’t have to be that ambitious. They can come from just setting the right tone. For example, encourage people to take micro-breaks throughout the day – at least two pauses per hour to just stand or to walk to the water cooler and back. It’s also smart to look at how workspaces are arranged. Do printers really have to be on the manager’s desk?  Making them a solid reach away can promote flexibility. Better yet: Place them seven to eight feet away to encourage standing and a quick walk.

The best thing to do, though, is to fight the sedentary life by showing people the value of incorporating at least three ways of standing into their day:

  1. When the phone rings, they should stand to answer.
  2. Stairs are a better option than the elevator.  Walking to a co-worker’s desk beats calling and instant messaging every time.
  3. A lunchtime walk around the block can help remove mental cobwebs and speed the digestion.

It’s not how long people stand that’s the issue. It’s how often. Encouraging better practices and habits to that end can only pay big health dividends. And everyone wins.

Fostering an environment where workers are supported in practices that will improve their overall well-being is part of an effective Health and Performance program. Your HUB advisor can guide you on your way.