Workplace interventions for reducing sitting at work

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Dec 17;12(12):CD010912. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010912.pub5.


Background: A large number of people are employed in sedentary occupations. Physical inactivity and excessive sitting at workplaces have been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and all-cause mortality.

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of workplace interventions to reduce sitting at work compared to no intervention or alternative interventions.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, OSH UPDATE, PsycINFO,, and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) search portal up to 9 August 2017. We also screened reference lists of articles and contacted authors to find more studies.

Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs), cross-over RCTs, cluster-randomised controlled trials (cluster-RCTs), and quasi-RCTs of interventions to reduce sitting at work. For changes of workplace arrangements, we also included controlled before-and-after studies. The primary outcome was time spent sitting at work per day, either self-reported or measured using devices such as an accelerometer-inclinometer and duration and number of sitting bouts lasting 30 minutes or more. We considered energy expenditure, total time spent sitting (including sitting at and outside work), time spent standing at work, work productivity and adverse events as secondary outcomes.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently screened titles, abstracts and full-text articles for study eligibility. Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias. We contacted authors for additional data where required.

Main results: We found 34 studies - including two cross-over RCTs, 17 RCTs, seven cluster-RCTs, and eight controlled before-and-after studies - with a total of 3,397 participants, all from high-income countries. The studies evaluated physical workplace changes (16 studies), workplace policy changes (four studies), information and counselling (11 studies), and multi-component interventions (four studies). One study included both physical workplace changes and information and counselling components. We did not find any studies that specifically investigated the effects of standing meetings or walking meetings on sitting time.Physical workplace changesInterventions using sit-stand desks, either alone or in combination with information and counselling, reduced sitting time at work on average by 100 minutes per workday at short-term follow-up (up to three months) compared to sit-desks (95% confidence interval (CI) -116 to -84, 10 studies, low-quality evidence). The pooled effect of two studies showed sit-stand desks reduced sitting time at medium-term follow-up (3 to 12 months) by an average of 57 minutes per day (95% CI -99 to -15) compared to sit-desks. Total sitting time (including sitting at and outside work) also decreased with sit-stand desks compared to sit-desks (mean difference (MD) -82 minutes/day, 95% CI -124 to -39, two studies) as did the duration of sitting bouts lasting 30 minutes or more (MD -53 minutes/day, 95% CI -79 to -26, two studies, very low-quality evidence).We found no significant difference between the effects of standing desks and sit-stand desks on reducing sitting at work. Active workstations, such as treadmill desks or cycling desks, had unclear or inconsistent effects on sitting time.Workplace policy changesWe found no significant effects for implementing walking strategies on workplace sitting time at short-term (MD -15 minutes per day, 95% CI -50 to 19, low-quality evidence, one study) and medium-term (MD -17 minutes/day, 95% CI -61 to 28, one study) follow-up. Short breaks (one to two minutes every half hour) reduced time spent sitting at work on average by 40 minutes per day (95% CI -66 to -15, one study, low-quality evidence) compared to long breaks (two 15-minute breaks per workday) at short-term follow-up.Information and counsellingProviding information, feedback, counselling, or all of these resulted in no significant change in time spent sitting at work at short-term follow-up (MD -19 minutes per day, 95% CI -57 to 19, two studies, low-quality evidence). However, the reduction was significant at medium-term follow-up (MD -28 minutes per day, 95% CI -51 to -5, two studies, low-quality evidence).Computer prompts combined with information resulted in no significant change in sitting time at work at short-term follow-up (MD -14 minutes per day, 95% CI -39 to 10, three studies, low-quality evidence), but at medium-term follow-up they produced a significant reduction (MD -55 minutes per day, 95% CI -96 to -14, one study). Furthermore, computer prompting resulted in a significant decrease in the average number (MD -1.1, 95% CI -1.9 to -0.3, one study) and duration (MD -74 minutes per day, 95% CI -124 to -24, one study) of sitting bouts lasting 30 minutes or more.Computer prompts with instruction to stand reduced sitting at work on average by 14 minutes per day (95% CI 10 to 19, one study) more than computer prompts with instruction to walk at least 100 steps at short-term follow-up.We found no significant reduction in workplace sitting time at medium-term follow-up following mindfulness training (MD -23 minutes per day, 95% CI -63 to 17, one study, low-quality evidence). Similarly a single study reported no change in sitting time at work following provision of highly personalised or contextualised information and less personalised or contextualised information. One study found no significant effects of activity trackers on sitting time at work.Multi-component interventions Combining multiple interventions had significant but heterogeneous effects on sitting time at work (573 participants, three studies, very low-quality evidence) and on time spent in prolonged sitting bouts (two studies, very low-quality evidence) at short-term follow-up.

Authors' conclusions: At present there is low-quality evidence that the use of sit-stand desks reduce workplace sitting at short-term and medium-term follow-ups. However, there is no evidence on their effects on sitting over longer follow-up periods. Effects of other types of interventions, including workplace policy changes, provision of information and counselling, and multi-component interventions, are mostly inconsistent. The quality of evidence is low to very low for most interventions, mainly because of limitations in study protocols and small sample sizes. There is a need for larger cluster-RCTs with longer-term follow-ups to determine the effectiveness of different types of interventions to reduce sitting time at work.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry
  • Controlled Before-After Studies
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Ergonomics*
  • Humans
  • Interior Design and Furnishings
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sitting Position*
  • Time Factors
  • Workplace / statistics & numerical data*