Organizational Wellness

How to Avoid Health Risks of Sedentary Jobs

Jul 27, 2017
Last Updated Jun 1, 2023

Chances are, you have to sit a lot at work. An estimated four out of five jobs in the U.S. are primarily sedentary, according to the American Heart Association. That much inaction can increase the likelihood of a slew of serious health risks, from heart and weight regulation issues to early mortality. There’s a reason people say sitting is the new smoking!

One of the best ways to prevent these issues is consistent movement. It's easy for people to forget this during a hectic day of Zoom calls and deadlines, but making time for regular activity directly benefits your employees' physical and mental wellbeing

Let’s dive into how a sedentary lifestyle may already be impacting your workforce and simple ways you can empower employees to incorporate more activity into their daily routine.

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Examples of Sedentary Jobs

A sedentary job is any job where most or all work tasks are done while remaining stationary. This is a common feature of office-based work like data entry, marketing, customer service, programming, and accounting. It also impacts positions like truck drivers, who spend most of their day driving without engaging in other physical activities.

What Are The Health Risks of a Sedentary Job?

Working a sedentary job doesn’t mean somebody is inherently inactive. They may go to the gym after work, but that one hour lifting weights pales in comparison to eight hours they spent at a desk. This imbalance increases the chance a person is likely to develop a wide variety of health issues. 

Cardiovascular Diseases and Other Heart Diseases

Being sedentary can have serious and potentially life-threatening effects on the heart. Prolonged inactivity can eventually lead to weight gain and even obesity, leading to damaged and clogged arteries that can cause heart attacks or strokes. Being active can reduce these heart-related risks by up to 35%. Regular physical activity can also help people better control high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels.


A stationary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Inactivity causes our bodies to become less sensitive to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. When this happens, blood sugar levels become elevated and, if left unchecked, can lead to serious health issues such as diabetes. Regular exercise helps lower your risk by improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin and helping you maintain a healthy weight. 

Musculoskeletal Disorders and Issues

Prolonged periods of sitting can increase the risk of developing musculoskeletal problems over time. People who do sedentary work often have back and neck pain, joint stiffness, decreased muscle strength and endurance, and poor posture. Regularly getting up from your chair and stretching can help reduce the risk of musculoskeletal issues. 

Metabolic Syndrome

Sedentary behaviors are a big risk factor for developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of intertwined conditions that increase the likelihood of  strokes, diabetes and heart disease. In addition to inactivity, metabolic syndrome is also caused by poor diet and sleep, according to the CDC.

Insomnia and Mental Health Issues

People who spend long hours at their desks are also less likely to get enough sleep. Stationary behaviors can cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances. Insomnia and a consistent lack of sleep can also lead to other health problems.

Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle can also lead to depression and anxiety due to frequent, prolonged inactivity. This is because when you're physically active, your body releases endorphins which reduce stress and improve mood, while social engagement helps foster connection, support, and positive mental health. 

Ways to Help Employees Avoid Health Risks of Sedentary Jobs

While sedentary jobs do pose health risks, your employees don’t have to quit their jobs to address them. Small changes throughout the day can help them up their activity to protect their health. Here are a few ways you can help them make those changes a reality.

Set Daily Physical Activity Goals

Exercise helps oxygenate the muscles and heart, which in turn boosts energy levels, reduces stress, and improves concentration. Getting 30 minutes of exercise doesn't mean employees have to hit the gym every day. There are other ways your employees can easily fit movement into their daily routine so it works for them. For example, you could share a list of movement ideas like taking walks on their lunch breaks or going for a bike ride after work. 

Send Regular Stretching Reminders

When your employees sit in the same position for too long, it can cause muscle stiffness and cramps. They can avoid this with regular stretching, which also helps reduce fatigue, tension, and headaches. You can issue company-wide calendar reminders that encourage employees to take a stretch break. These can include links to how-to guides for basic stretches like shoulder rolls, neck rotations, overhead reaches, side bends, torso twists, and calf raises, or links to beginner yoga videos.

Encourage 10-Minute Breaks (Minimum) in Between Meetings

It’s hard to get away from your chair when your calendar is packed with back-to-back meetings. Setting a company policy that encourages people to schedule 10-minute breathers in between huddles gives them time to take a walk, or at least stand up. Standing breaks can help the body refresh itself, and regular breaks have been shown to increase focus levels when employees return to work tasks. 

Host a Steps Challenge

Recent studies have shown that increasing the number of steps taken throughout the day can reduce risks from a sedentary lifestyle. Consistent walking can improve cardiovascular health, muscle strength, endurance, and energy levels. You can encourage your employees to get more movement through the work week with a steps challenge, where people use pedometers like Fitbits to track how many steps they take during the competition time period. The person with the most steps at the end of the competition is the winner, and typically receives a small prize. 

Offer Standing Desks

Standing desks are designed to allow the user to stand while working, which helps negate some of the negative effects of long periods of sitting time. They are an increasingly popular way to avoid sitting all day, even when working for long stretches. Consider setting aside money in the company budget to purchase standing desks for the office or offer to reimburse remote employees if they purchase at-home standing desks.

Host Walking Meetings

Walking meetings are a great alternative to traditional, static meetings. Let your managers know they can hold walking meetings with their employees to help them avoid prolonged sedentary behavior. These can help break up long stretches of sitting even on meeting-heavy days. As an added bonus, they may be more productive — research at Stanford University found walking can boost creative thinking!

Everyone Wins When Employees are Healthy

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to helping your team members live a more active lifestyle. There are so many ways an employee wellness program can encourage movement, from gym memberships to sessions with private trainers to yoga seminars.  

As an added bonus, employee health contributes to a healthy business. Companies witheffective wellbeing strategies are more than twice as likely to exceed financial targets, five times more likely to have low annual healthcare claim costs, and almost eleven times more likely to have lower rates of absenteeism.

If you want to learn more about how Wellhub can help you reduce the health risks of sedentary jobs, talk with a wellbeing specialist today!




Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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