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Prolonged sedentary time and physical activity in workplace and non-work contexts: a cross-sectional study of office, customer service and call centre employees

Alicia A Thorp15, Genevieve N Healy12, Elisabeth Winkler2, Bronwyn K Clark2, Paul A Gardiner26, Neville Owen12 and David W Dunstan12345*

Author Affiliations

1 Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Level 4 The Alfred Centre, 99 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Victoria 3004, Australia

2 School of Population Health, Cancer Prevention Research Centre, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Level 3, Public Health Building, Herston Road, Herston, Queensland 4006, Australia

3 School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria, 3125, Australia

4 Edith Cowan University Health and Wellness Institute, Edith Cowan University, 270 Joondalup Drive, Joondalup, Western Australia, 6027, Australia

5 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Level 6 The Alfred Centre, 99 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Victoria, 3004, Australia

6 Translating Research Into Practice (TRIP) Centre, Mater Medical Research Institute, Level 3, Aubigny Place, Mater Hospitals, South Brisbane, QLD, 4101, Australia

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:128  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-128

Published: 26 October 2012



To examine sedentary time, prolonged sedentary bouts and physical activity in Australian employees from different workplace settings, within work and non-work contexts.


A convenience sample of 193 employees working in offices (131), call centres (36) and customer service (26) was recruited. Actigraph GT1M accelerometers were used to derive percentages of time spent sedentary (<100 counts per minute; cpm), in prolonged sedentary bouts (≥20 minutes or ≥30 minutes), light-intensity activity (100–1951 cpm) and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA; ≥1952 cpm). Using mixed models adjusted for confounders, these were compared for: work days versus non-work days; work hours versus non-work hours (work days only); and, across workplace settings.


Working hours were mostly spent sedentary (77.0%, 95%CI: 76.3, 77.6), with approximately half of this time accumulated in prolonged bouts of 20 minutes or more. There were significant (p<0.05) differences in all outcomes between workdays and non-work days, and, on workdays, between work- versus non-work hours. Results consistently showed “work” was more sedentary and had less light-intensity activity, than “non-work”. The period immediately after work appeared important for MVPA. There were significant (p<0.05) differences in all sedentary and activity outcomes occurring during work hours across the workplace settings. Call-centre workers were generally the most sedentary and least physically active at work; customer service workers were typically the least sedentary and the most active at work.


The workplace is a key setting for prolonged sedentary time, especially for some occupational groups, and the potential health risk burden attached requires investigation. Future workplace regulations and health promotion initiatives for sedentary occupations to reduce prolonged sitting time should be considered.

Occupational sitting; Active time; Workers; Leisure-time