An office worker in Helsinki. LEHTIKUVA

Health & wellbeing

A new study has revealed that taking short walking breaks, termed "office walks," is the most effective way to mitigate the adverse health effects of prolonged sitting. The research, conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH), shows that just two minutes of walking every half hour can significantly reduce discomfort and improve overall well-being for office workers.

The SitFit study by FIOH aimed to identify practical methods for reducing the negative impacts of sedentary work.

It compared various break strategies in a controlled laboratory setting to determine the most effective approach for real-world application. The researchers concluded that a brief walk every half hour was the best method to integrate into a typical workday.

“The term 'office walk' aptly describes these breaks, which are similar to getting a cup of coffee, going to the printer, or chatting with a colleague,” said Senior Researcher Satu Mänttäri from FIOH. “These short, easy walks raise the heart rate, activate muscles, and improve circulation, thereby counteracting the effects of prolonged sitting and refreshing the mind.”

Volunteers participating in the study found the two-minute treadmill walk to be the most popular and effective break method. This simple activity was sufficient to increase heart rate and circulation, thus preventing the negative health impacts associated with continuous sitting. Moreover, the study found that such breaks did not disrupt work efficiency; on the contrary, they helped maintain focus and productivity.

“Taking regular breaks is a straightforward and cost-free way to prevent health problems caused by sedentary work,” Mänttäri added. “A two-minute office walk, prompted by a clock or an app, fits naturally into the workflow without diminishing productivity.”

With the rise of remote work, particularly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of time people spend sitting has increased significantly. Currently, about one-third of Finnish employees sit for 6–7 hours a day. Excessive sitting is linked to severe health issues, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and musculoskeletal disorders.

Long periods of sitting strain the neck, shoulders, and lower back, impair circulation in the lower limbs, and can increase the risk of developing musculoskeletal problems. The study highlights the critical need for incorporating regular breaks into the workday to combat these risks.

The SitFit study also evaluated other break methods, such as alternating between sitting and standing and performing five squats every half hour. However, the two-minute walking breaks proved superior in terms of physiological and cognitive benefits.

This pioneering research provides quantitative data on the effectiveness of break methods, leading to the primary recommendation of taking a two-minute walk every 30 minutes.

The SitFit study was a collaborative effort between the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and University of Helsinki Property Services Ltd., with funding provided by the Finnish Work Environment Fund and University of Helsinki Property Services Ltd.