The Stanford Center on Longevity is excited to move forward with practical research into sedentary behavior, based on the outcome of our launch conference on the topic. In 2013, we will be involved in a pilot study examining the potential for reducing sitting in the workplace.

The time since the Center’s conference has been an active one for the field of sedentary behavior. There have been a number of significant studies published in the field, including several from our partners at the conference. These studies have reflected a consistent theme that emerged at the meeting. Less sitting clearly is better, but how much is too much? How much movement is necessary to break a sedentary episode? Is simply standing up enough? Is it necessary to have light movement? These questions have been difficult to pin down scientifically.

Here at Stanford, we are trying to answer these questions, along with a team of key faculty led by Faculty Affiliate Dr. Cathy Heaney. As with most population-wide health-related issues, the path to scientifically sound data is not short. The health effects of long-term sedentary behavior are by nature only revealed over an extended period of time. What is needed is a large-scale longitudinal study to follow subjects over several years while periodically measuring physical parameters and objectively recording (and changing) sedentary behavior. This type of research usually is funded by a federal agency such as the National Institutes of Health. But such organizations do not commit significant money to this type of study without proof that the hypothesis is sound, the research team has sufficient expertise, and the process for the study is proven. To create this proof, the Stanford team is initiating a pilot study on sitting in the workplace.

The goals are to show that sitting can effectively be measured in a real workplace, that we can reduce the amount of sitting by intervening with employees, and that doing so does not negatively impact productivity. After all, no company will want to host a long-term study if they expect that it will be bad for business. It also is possible that productivity will IMPROVE by getting people moving more during their workdays. To perform the pilot in an actual workplace, we were fortunate to find a teammate in Blue Shield of California, which will partner with us by allowing the study to be performed in call centers where Blue Shield employees spend their days sitting while fielding insurance-related phone calls. The initial pilot study will occur early in 2013. We are excited to see this work move forward and we will continue to provide periodic updates on progress.