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“Just a prejudice that we sit too much at the office”


When office workers wore activity trackers, data showed that they stood up and moved about more than the researchers at University of Gävle Svend Erik Mathiassen and David Hallman previously thought.

“However, the problem of sedentary behaviour exists in most organisations, and we need to focus particularly on those who are far too physically inactive,” says Svend Erik Mathiassen, professor in occupational health sciences.


When the researchers compiled results from 26 international studies, they found that the level of office workers’ physical activity is close to meeting EU physical activity guidelines. In the studies, 2812 individuals wore activity trackers the whole workday and data showed when they were sitting down, standing up or walking.

The EU guidelines recommend that that the workday should consist of 60 percent of sitting, 30 percent of standing and 10 percent of walking. The studies with activity trackers show that on a group level the numbers were 70-20-10 percent.

“The view that office workers are sitting too much is based on previous studies that used self-assessment. However, our studies show that it is hard for an individual to estimate the time you spend sitting,” Svend Erik Mathiassen says.

Problems on an individual level

Although the entire team’s level of physical activity may be adequate, there are problems on an individual level. The studies show that there is a great variation; in the same office one individual may sit down 30 percent of the time, while another sits down for 90 percent of the workday. There is also great variation for an individual between different workdays.

“The best option is to identify individuals with low levels of physical activity. It is beneficial to make intervention in organisation in units with many such individuals.”

Acticity-based offices no solution

Researchers used to think that activity-based offices, in which we are supposed to move between different spaces, generate more physical activity. However, studies show that they fail to so or do so to a lesser extent.

“No, activity-based offices do not solve the problem of sedentary behaviour. Such office workers move about slightly more than those in ordinary cell offices, but not very much more.”

Buildings in which you must move around

According to Svend Erik Mathiassen, the conclusion is that individuals with a sedentary behaviour need extensive measures.

For example, they may need to work in different types of building. The latest trend is to design office buildings in which you simply must move around as there are a number of necessary activities that cannot be performed sitting down.

“It is not advisable to confront the individual and say, ‘you have to exercise.’ Instead, we should promote psychical activity at work. If we make interventions for those who need them the most, it will also be beneficial for those who do not need them as much,” Svend Erik Mathiassen says.

Vetenskaplig rapport publicerad i tidskriften Arbete & Hälsa, med finansiering från AFA försäkring, en av Sveriges största finansiärer av arbetslivsforskning. Pdf, 453 kB.

Text: Douglas Öhrbom


Svend Erik Mathiassen, professor in occupational health sciences, University of Gävle
Phone: 070-678 81 58
E-mail: svenderik.mathiassen@hig.se

David Hallman, docent in occupational health sciences, University of Gävle
Phone: 073-626 64 13
E-mail: David.Hallman@hig.se

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2023-01-09
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)