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Workers kick down advice to stand up more

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Office workers have little time for health tips telling them to stand up more while they work, a new study shows.

Health experts recommend people stand or do light activity like walking for two to four hours a day to help prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

But the average London office worker sits down for 10.5 hours every weekday, and hardly stands or moves at all during core work hours, according to the latest research.

Researchers at Brunel University London, King's College London and Anglia Ruskin University looked at people’s attitudes to the UK's first health guidelines on sedentary behaviour at work. Their study, in BMC Public Health, reveals ‘significant public resistance’ to the idea, with widespread confusion about the health benefits of standing.

“The findings show if you don't involve people for whom an intervention is intended and it's not a feasible intervention – it won't work,” said study co-author, Dr Louise Mansfield at Brunel.

“It's really important for us now to look at how age, disability, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status impact physical activity and sedentary behaviours at work,” she added.

Researchers sifted through 573 online comments responding to UK media coverage of the 2015 guidelines in the Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph, Independent and Daily Mirror.

Each comment fitted one of three categories. The first questioned the credibility of the workplace sitting guidance, challenging the evidence or questioning whether the guideline writers had enough knowledge and experience. Some felt the advice was impractical because their own managers prioritised productivity over workers’ health, and would penalise them for taking breaks from their desk.

The second group mistrusted public health advice in general and suggested hidden financial interests like boosting sales of sit–stand desks. And the third category thought the advice came from 'citizen scientists' just going on their own personal knowledge and experiences and how they stuck to the guidance.

“These comments provide a valuable glimpse into responses that may face employers or public health professionals who try to encourage people to stand more in the workplace,” said Dr Benjamin Gardner at King's College London. “These insights are important because public opinion is inextricably linked to the success of public health campaigns.

“We're now looking into the real-world contexts in which workplace standing initiatives could be implemented, such as standing in meetings. We think it is essential that researchers, practitioners and employers interested in reducing sitting time acknowledge these contexts.”