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New study aims to improve the health of NHS office workers

Bernie Stribling standing up at her desk at the Leicester Diabetes Centre

A new study by Loughborough University will be looking at the impact of standing desks on the health of NHS office workers at Leicester’s three hospitals.

New height-adjustable desks or desk attachments are being made available to selected staff at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, Leicester General Hospital and Glenfield Hospital.

The SMArT Work (Stand More AT Work) project will investigate if the desks, along with additional behaviour change strategies, reduce sitting time for the participants over a 12 month period.

High levels of sitting have been linked to the development of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer but something as simple as regularly breaking up sitting by standing has been shown to benefit health

The project is a collaborative effort between Loughborough University, University of Leicester and the Leicester Diabetes Centre. It has been funded by the NIHR Department of Health Policy Research Programme and supported by the NIHR Leicester-Loughborough Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity Biomedical Research Unit as well as the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine (NCSEM).

Dr Fehmidah Munir, from Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine East Midlands, is leading the study.  She said: “Prior to the standing desks being installed we will be assessing how much time the staff taking part in the study spend sat down and inactive, and then reassessing this at the end of the 12 month trial.  This project is a real opportunity to help those who sit for long periods of time to change their sitting habits for the better.”

Study coordinator Dr Sophie O’Connell from the Leicester Diabetes Centre said: “Our message is simple; sit less, move more and we’re trying to encourage this in office environments.  Changes in the demands of work and increased use of computers have led to long, uninterrupted periods of occupational sitting.

“In recent years, studies have emerged demonstrating that sitting is associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, independent of the amount of exercise people do.

“This suggests that even if an individual goes for a 30-minute run every day this may not compensate for the amount of sitting time accumulated throughout the day.  This is worrying since data shows that adults spend around 60 to 70 per cent of their waking day sitting, with office workers sitting for 80 per cent of the day.”