Office walking is the most effective way to take breaks from sedentary work – Only a few minutes of walking is needed to reduce discomfort

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has released a press statement on 31st May 2024 on a study they conducted which compared alternative ways to minimise the negative effects of sedentary work. The researchers called this type of break an "office walk" and recommend two minutes of easy walking every half an hour.

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The SitFit study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health compared methods for taking breaks that are suitable for office work in laboratory conditions and determined the best method for practical work life in authentic sedentary office work.

Office walking integrates into the working day

In the study, volunteers selected a two-minute walk on a treadmill as the most popular way to take a break during their writing work. A short, easy walk was enough to raise the heart rate, activate the muscles and increase blood circulation – in other words, to prevent the effects of sedentary work. This also invigorated the mind simultaneously.

“The phrase 'office walk' is an apt way to describe this way of taking breaks, because the breaks were like getting a cup of coffee, going to the printer or going to chat with a colleague,” says Senior Researcher Satu Mänttäri from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

"Taking breaks is an easy and free way to prevent health problems caused by sedentary work. A two-minute office walk, does not decrease your work efficiency and focus on intensive work when a clock or an app indicates when it is time to take a break."

The results demonstrate that all methods of taking breaks were better than continuous sitting. A regular break of a few minutes is a natural fit for knowledge work. One of the subjects noted that periods of work go by faster with breaks than with continuous sitting.

Excessive sitting is associated with severe illnesses

The number of employees who work sitting down is increasing both in Finland and elsewhere. This development has been accelerated by the increasing prevalence of remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowledge work is mainly done sitting down, and one third of Finnish employees sit down for 6–7 hours per day.

This problem has also been recognised elsewhere in the world. It is estimated that a working-age person spends an average of 30–50 per cent of their working time sitting. On average, a working day includes 100 minutes more of sitting compared to a day off. Remote work has become increasingly common as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further increased the amount of sitting during the working day.

Physically sitting is almost equivalent to rest. Long-term and abundant sitting has been found to be associated with health problems such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Too much sitting will also strain the neck, shoulders and lower back, impair circulation in the lower limbs and can therefore increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.

Office walk won over standing and squatting

In a laboratory study, office walking was considered better compared with alternating sitting and standing work postures and a method of doing five squats every half hour.

This was the first project to produce quantitative data on the physiological and cognitive effects of taking breaks from sitting. Based on the data, the primary recommendation is to take a two-minute office walk every 30 minutes in order to reduce the negative health effects of sedentary work.

The SitFit study was conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in collaboration with University of Helsinki Property Services Ltd. The study was funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund and University of Helsinki Property Services Ltd.

Learn more about the study

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