Health Consequences of Sedentary Work

Sit less, move often, move more was the message from Dr. Nico Pronk (HealthPartners) at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences Symposium Thursday (June 5).  He showed research evidence that providing sit-stand desks in his company was followed by reduced sitting time and reduced low back pain in employees. More than one speaker recommended standing and walking for a few minutes following sitting for an hour (or even after you sit for less time).  ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ was mentioned by more than one speaker, suggesting that prolonged sitting had serious negative health consequences.

Dr. Saurabh Thosar (Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences) followed with evidence that people who report prolonged sitting time die earlier … this is even true of individuals who are highly physically active. Consequences of sitting for as short a time as an hour are reduced blood flow in the thighs and increased blood pressure.  Dr. Jennifer Hess warned that stretching and fitness was not a substitute for ergonomics.  She focused on balance and muscle symmetry. For example, a worker returning too soon from an injury can lead to avoiding use of a muscle that was not fully recovered and this can then lead to asymmetric postures that produce to further injuries.  Shown below are Dr. Hess, Dr. Pronk and Dr. Thosar responding to a question from the audience. Occupational Health Sciences Director Dr. Steve Shea is on the right, coordinating the Q&A period.

Speakers provided examples of healthy exercise programs and addressed the need to provide exercise options appropriate for different cultural groups to have effective programs.  Below, Occupational Health Sciences Senior Research Associate Dede Montgomery introduces Kadalyst Wellness Director/Partner Kerwynn Prinzing (standing at lectern) who described an activity program that had changed her life.  A webcast of all the presentations with much more detail including data supporting the results described above will be available at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences Health & Safety Training web page under Outreach and Education, by mid-June.


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  1. I am lucky that our offices have the sit/stand desks and I stand all the time. It took a few weeks for my feet to get used to it so I have to be sure to have comfortable shoes, but I really like it. I’m much more apt to move around because I don’t have to struggle to get up out of my chair (I’m oldish and it gets harder to stand up from sitting). I’ve stood at my desk for a few years now.

About the Author

W. Kent Anger, PhD, is a Senior Scientist and Associate Director for Applied Research at OHSU's Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology. Kent is also the Director of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, a NIOSH Center of Excellence in TWH.

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