Employees who work in an open-plan office reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes by moving more compared to those working in smaller working environments, an American study suggests.
Open-plan office workers are also less stressed compared to people who are based in small private rooms or cubicles, the University of Arizona study found.
Studies have linked excessive sitting to health problems, including obesity and type 2 diabetes, and research worldwide is investigating how to combat this. Earlier this month, Australian scientists reported on how sit-stand desks could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes among office workers.
Arizona researchers studied 230 people working for the government in the US. They were tracked over three days and two nights using activity and heart sensors, and asked about their happiness and stress levels through a smartphone.
The authors found people in an open-plan environment without any desk partitions were on average 20% more physically active than people working in cubicles with walls. Open-plan workers were also 32% more active compared to people working in private offices.
“In terms of impact on health, this increase in physical activity is important. It is well within the range that would have an impact on health,” said Dr Esther Sternberg, director of the university’s Institute on Place and Wellbeing.
“If we can figure out how to design offices to allow people to be more active, that will result in better health and lower stress, so educating people about that is really important.”
One hypothesis for why workers were based at partitioned desks was the need to move to attend one-on-one video calls or small group chats as well as larger conferences.
The most active workers seemed to reap benefits at home too, with measurements from wearable heart sensors finding that they were 14% less stressed than their more sedentary colleagues. Older workers and those who were overweight were shown to have the highest stress levels.
The research was published by the journal Occupational &Environmental Medicine.
Editor’s note: People with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes can improve their health through signing up to our Low Carb Program. Those who have completed it achieve an average HbA1c reduction of 13 mmol/mol (1.2%) after one year and also lose 7% of their body weight.

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