Staying Physically Active at Work

By Jolyn Johnston-Myers
January 06, 2017

A sedentary lifestyle increases certain health risks, including obesity, diabetes, some types of cancer and cardiovascular disease. That’s concerning for those who have desk jobs. New research from Kansas State University finds workers benefit more from taking short breaks throughout the day rather than just one or two long breaks.

K-State assistant professor in the department of food, nutrition, dietetics and health, Sara Rosenkranz, says that in the typical sedentary workplace it might not be possible to take two 15-minute breaks, and that taking just a quick break by standing or using some other work-related task to be active might be more feasible.

“You can stay at your desk; you can adapt your work space so that you can continue to do something,” Rosenkranz suggested. “You can talk on the phone; you can go talk to a colleague and quickly come back to your work.”

The study, which involved women whose jobs primarily had them sitting throughout the day, found that shorter, more frequent breaks resulted in significant reductions on time spent sitting – up to 36 minutes per workday. Participants also showed improvements in cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose levels. Assistant professor in K-State’s department of kinesiology, Emily Mailey, says the shorter group also demonstrated a greater willingness to stick to the program – an important consideration in trying to change workplace health behaviors.

“You don’t necessarily need to go to a gym and start doing vigorous exercise to start seeing some improvements in your health,” Mailey said. “This is really a very small manageable change that people can make that could potentially have a positive impact on their health.”

The study also found no correlation between taking more short breaks throughout the day and decreased productivity.

Rosenkranz and Mailey will be conducting further research to examine strategies to encourage workplaces to adopt policies that support more frequent breaks throughout the workday.