Woman stretching at her desk

A guide for managers

Managing your way out of sedentary behaviour

Could sedentary working be draining yours or your team’s productivity? Work accounts for over 7 hours of sedentary time for the average office worker, so how can you break the cycle and make a difference?

Sedentary vs active lifestyles

A sedentary lifestyle is not simply the absence of exercise. Sedentary time covers any part of the day where we are sitting or lying, including working time spent at a desk, driving or on public transport. There is a link between spending extended periods of time sitting and higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health conditions. It is important to break  up time being sedentary with frequent breaks and become more active throughout the day. Sitting, after all, a learnt behaviour and a habit we can break.

Physical activity covers any bodily movement produced by our muscles that requires energy expenditure which is enough to raise our heart rate and get us slightly out of breath.1 It is possible to meet the weekly physical activity guidelines (150 minutes of moderate intensity activity) while still leading a very sedentary lifestyle. For example, someone might work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, at a desk-based job, then at the weekend spend half an hour swimming on Saturday and 2 hours cycling on Sunday. Technically they are reaching activity recommendations and gaining some health benefits, but are spending most of the week in a sedentary state.

Managing your way out of sedentary working

Sedentary time at work has been referred to as the most underrated risk to health, with an increasing number of workplaces opting to address this in their health and wellbeing plans.

If you and your team are stuck in that sedentary rut, all is not lost! There are adjustments we can make to our day-to-day lives to not only improve our physical health, but also our mental health and wellbeing. Increasing your movement can have a positive impact on productivity, energy levels, efficiency and stress levels.

New guidance from public health England suggests sedentary behaviour can be tackled by encouraging the following:

  • Accumulating two hours of standing and/or light activity daily during working hours, eventually building this up to four hours.
  • Break up seated work with standing work regularly.
  • Avoid prolonged static sitting (and standing).
  • Employers should promote reduction of prolonged siting alongside other health promotion goals.

It is also recommended that you get up every hour and walk around for at least two minutes. But what other ways could you make movement more of a feature in yours and your team’s day? Read on to find our top tips to minimise sedentary behaviour and increase movement…

Top tips to support your team

  1. Encourage movement - Movement does not mean exercise or being physically active. In fact adding movements, like extra steps and standing, can all contribute towards the aim of living a less sedentary lifestyle. Ask yourself and your team - Can you take this call standing up? Do I need to send this email, or could I make the walk over to their desk? Can I use the toilets on the floor above/below? Could you take the stairs coming back from lunch? – likely this will help you avoid that lunch time lift rush!
  2. Break habits - Encourage your team to break bad habits and be more active in their everyday lives. Think about how you reward yourself; people often use sedentary time as a reward ‘if I get through this meeting I will sit down and have a coffee’ or ‘it’s been a long day, I’m going to watch tv’. Whilst we all need to unwind in a way that works for us, think about an alternative or a way to break up the time spent being sedentary.
  3. Adjust your workspace – Small adjustments to your workspace, like removing bins from under desks, can encourage more movement without even realising!
  4. Stand up – standing for as little as two hours per day can increase muscle activity and energy expenditure. Take a call standing up, could you hold standing meetings? Think of small ways to build more movement into your everyday routine.

Sedentary time at work can increase health risks. Think about ways you can encourage your team to change their sedentary habits and lead by example!


1 Definition of activity: World Health Organisation


  • www.personneltoday.com/hr/get-stand-evidence-sedentary-working-shows-employees-need-get-moving/
  • www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6127206/
  • bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-296
  • www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-matters-getting-every-adult-active-every-day/health-matters-getting-every-adult-active-every-day