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Cycle at Work: An intervention to reduce workplace sedentary behaviour among men

You may have heard of ‘Cycle TO Work’ but Trinity School of Medicine researchers are interested in a more original idea, coined ‘Cycle AT Work’. The research was led by PhD candidate Gail Nicolson, Associate Professor Catherine Darker, and Associate Professor Catherine Hayes - researchers at the Department of Primary Health and Primary Care at the Institute of Population Health, Trinity College Dublin, based in Tallaght. They investigated the acceptability and feasibility of an intervention focused on professional men to reduce sedentary behaviour and increase physical activity. The research, published this month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, was funded by the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin

Over the course of our day, we spend more than seven hours being sedentary, and for most adults, sedentary behaviour mainly occurs in the office workplace. This behaviour puts our health at risk, and the evidence shows that sedentary behaviour is associated with the development of cardiovascular disease and cancers and may lead to a higher risk of death. In particular, workplace sitting appears to be associated with a higher risk of developing pancreatic, lung and breast cancers. Workplace interventions may be important strategies in our efforts to reduce sedentary behaviour and increase physical activity in those who are most at risk. Multiple short bouts of physical activity (rather than long exercise sessions) are likely to be practical and acceptable in the workplace, and evidence suggests that these short sharp bouts of exercise may actually benefit us more.

Gail described the Cycle at Work study:

The aim of this study was to assess the acceptability and feasibility of a gender-sensitive intervention, guided by the socio-ecological model, to reduce sedentary behaviour among professional men in two workplaces. The main influences of sedentary behaviour were targeted: at the individual level (behaviour change techniques such as goal-setting, self-monitoring), social (collegial support and competition), environmental (change to the workstation), and organisational (management support).

Men were each provided with a Garmin watch and the associated web-based/smartphone application, Garmin Connect. An under-desk pedal machine was also provided for the duration of the intervention. Managers were recruited to provide support to the employees.

Gail summarised the key study findings:

Twenty-two men were recruited with an average age of 43 years. Overall, they found that the intervention was acceptable, feasible and enjoyable, despite some initial problems with setting up the under-desk pedal machines. We found that the intervention reduced workplace sedentary behaviour by 27 minutes. Overall, sedentary behaviour was reduced by 47 minutes in a full day. The Cycle at Work intervention has the potential to change workers’ behaviour by increasing light physical activity. This study should now be expanded to include different occupations and settings and should prioritise those who are least active. Future studies should also look at how well this novel intervention would reduce sedentary behaviour in women

The findings of this research may have significant impact on national policy. In Ireland, the ‘National Healthy Workplace Framework’ is currently under development under the auspices of Healthy Ireland by the Department of Health. The Framework aims to encourage and support the development of health and wellbeing programmes in all places of employment across both public and private sectors. This is further strengthened by legislation in the public sector which requires all employers to implement a health and wellbeing programme. The findings of this study provide insight into the challenges and opportunities associated with the workplace, and this intervention should be further tested in a larger randomised controlled trial. This could provide practical, real-world solutions to improve population health. Gail further described the study’s impact:

Given that the typical workplace is highly sedentary in nature, and that employees and organisations have the authority to implement their own policies, the ‘Cycle at Work’ intervention has the potential to effect real change. This multicomponent intervention could be offered to both employers and employees as part of a wider culture of wellness.”

The study full-text can be accessed here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8431104/