Active Buildings: modelling physical activity and movement in office buildings

NIHR SPHR’s Active Buildings study, a unique collaboration between public health, built environment and computer science researchers, has found that office-based workers demonstrate high levels of sitting during both the working week and weekend. The UCL research team was led by Professors Jane Wardle and Alexi Marmot. Other researchers  from the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield, and the University of Liverpool were members of the advisory board.

Health benefits of regular participation in physical activity and reductions in sitting time are well documented but population levels of physical activity are low and sitting time high. Office layout, and in particular the number and location of office building destinations (e.g. – print and meeting rooms), may influence both walking time and characteristics of sitting time. No research to date has focused on the role that the layout of the indoor office environment plays in facilitating or inhibiting step counts and characteristics of sitting time.

Interventions that target the working day and the evenings (weekday and weekend) to displace sitting with activity may offer most promise for reducing population levels of sedentary behaviour and increasing physical activity levels, and thus benefiting health. This study has highlighted that managerial discouragement of breaks is related to meaningful decreases in occupational step count and should be investigated further in intervention studies.

The study involved objective monitoring of indoor physical activity and tracking of movement in a subsample, complemented by a larger questionnaire arm. Participants wore Activepal accelerometers (to monitor free-living physical activity and sitting inside and outside the office) and a sub-sample of these wore a novel tracking device for five consecutive days.

NIHR SPHR researchers will continue to analyse the data from the Active Buildings study which will be used to inform intervention on approaches to increase physical activity and reduce sitting in office-based workers.

More about the project.