Those of you who are office workers are likely to have become well-acquainted with your desk chair; after all, you spend most of the day sitting on it – a behavior that has been linked to a range of health problems. Now, researchers from the University of Iowa have come up with a simple but potentially effective way to increase physical activity among office employees: put a portable pedaling device under each desk.
Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study found office employees who were provided with a personal pedaling device increased their physical activity, with those who used the device the most reaping some health benefits.
Study co-author Lucas Carr, assistant professor of health and human physiology and member of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative at the University of Iowa, and colleagues presented their findings at the 2015 Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Annual Meeting in San Antonio, TX, earlier this year.
Previous research has shown sedentary behavior can raise the risk of numerous health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. In June, Medical News Today reported lack of physical activity may even have an impact on mental health, raising the risk of anxiety.
Office workers are one group at particularly high risk for sedentary-related health problems. Earlier this year, a survey of office workers conducted by the British Health Foundation found almost half of women and nearly 40% of men spend less than 30 minutes walking around at work.
And in January, MNT reported on a study that found regular exercise may not even reduce the health risks associated with prolonged sitting.
Many employers have attempted to encourage physical activity in the workplace by providing employees with shared exercise facilities.
- It is recommended that adults get at least 2.5 hours of physical activity each week, but less than half do
- Individuals who engage in physical activity tend to live longer and have reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, type 2 diabetes and cancer
- Men are more likely than women to meet physical activity guidelines.
“It’s a great idea in theory, but it doesn’t work over the long haul for most people,” says Carr. “A lot of companies have gone the route of building expensive fitness facilities that typically get used only by the most healthy employees. The people who need to improve their health the most are less likely to use worksite fitness facilities.”
As such, he and his colleagues tested a different approach. For 16 weeks, they provided 27 overweight or obese office workers in Iowa City with their own activeLife Trainer pedal device, which was placed under their desk.
The researchers analyzed the pedal time of each employee via a monitor attached to the device. On average, employees pedaled 50 minutes each day over the 16-week study period.
Each employee was also sent an email three times weekly, reminding them to alter their posture, stand regularly and offering them tips on how to get more active at work.
The researchers found that employees who engaged in no physical activity during their workday prior to the study engaged in light-intensity physical activity following introduction of the pedal device.
What is more, employees who pedaled the most experienced weight loss, had fewer sick days and even had better concentration at work than those who pedaled the least.
Key to these findings, says Carr, is that employees were provided with their own personal pedal device, increasing their engagement in physical activity. After the study ceased, around 70% of employees wanted to keep the device, which gives Carr hope that it is something that could be introduced to all offices:
“We are really looking to identify sustainable solutions. That’s what we are working toward – how do we help people engage in healthy behaviors that can be sustained over the long term.
This is something that could be provided to just about any employee, regardless of the size of their company or office. It’s right at their feet, and they can use it whenever they want without feeling self-conscious in front of their co-workers.”
The Healthier Workforce Center for Excellence at the University of Iowa and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) funded the study.
In April, a Spotlight from MNT investigated the other health risks associated with working in an office environment.