Faculty of Education

University of Tasmania Active Work Laboratory




 Our Mission

The news reports are now in:

If you sit for work, you should be concerned about your health.

Studies have linked prolonged sitting with a variety of cardio-metabolic and musculo-skeletal issues.

The ubiquity of desktop computer use in the workplace has borne widespread human sedentariness during the workday. The potential for this sitting disease to permeate throughout the day might be inflicting a public health concern.

The University of Tasmania Active Work Laboratory (UTAWL) is dedicated to finding healthy alternatives for desk-based workers in an effort to improve their overall health and wellbeing through field-based and clinical trials.

Some researchers have suggested that the reputed formula of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days a week as suggested by the Australian government, may not be the solution to this particular problem.

That does not mean that we do not advocate for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days a week. We do. We just do not believe that this is the only variable within the equation for a healthy lifestyle.

Moreover, how many realistically abide by this guideline. If you are Tasmanian and over the age of 18, it is unlikely.

Even if you are one of the few that exercises regularly according to this guideline what are you doing the other 23 hours of the day?

UTAWL Lab - Scott Pedersen

The UTAWL was built in 2013 to investigate the effects on human health by increasing the amount of movement performed during working hours.

This has led us to take a multi-faceted approach to answering this question. Our research utilizes a socio-ecological theoretical foundation, as well as elements of protection motivation theory, to investigate if we change the built environment of a typical office space and simultaneously educate desk-based workers about the health problems associated with prolonged sitting, will this facilitate healthy human movement experiences during the workday.

Read more about the UTAWL research activities by clicking on the Lab Projects tab below.



 The Lab

What is Exertime ?UTAWL XT Logo

Exertime is a workplace e-health programme developed by Drs. Pedersen and Cooley to encourage desk-based employees to interrupt long bouts of sitting by engaging in movement breaks during work hours.

Exertime prompts individuals hourly (customizable) with suggestions for low-impact, short-duration movements that are suitable for the office climate.UTAWL XT 2

The UTAWL research team continues to test the effects of the Exertime e-health programme across a number of Tasmanian employers including the state departments of Police, Health and Human Services, Fire, Education, several state councils, and right at home at the University of Tasmania.

Our primary investigation into this epidemic began through collecting field-based data on Tasmanian government employees, namely the good men and women of the Tasmanian Police Department and Emergency Management branch. We have tested the efficacy of this e-health programme on a variety of direct and indirect dependent variables.

Sources of Funding: Tasmanian Government

If you are a desk-based employee who spends copious amounts of time sitting for work and are interested in learning more about this e-health solution visit the Exertime webpage or click on the Express Interest form to sign-up now.

Exertime is licensable technology available through UTAS commercialisation. Click here to learn more.

 The Projects

Is self-reporting workplace activity worthwhile? Validity and reliability of Occupational Sitting and Physical Activity Questionnaire in desk-based workers.
Authors Pedersen SJ, Kitic CM, Bird ML, Mainsbridge CP, Cooley PD
Journal BMC Public Health
Abstract With the advent of workplace health and wellbeing programs designed to address prolonged occupational sitting, tools to measure behaviour change within this environment should derive from empirical evidence. In this study we measured aspects of validity and reliability for the Occupational Sitting and Physical Activity Questionnaire that asks employees to recount the percentage of work time they spend in the seated, standing, and walking postures during a typical workday. Three separate cohort samples (N = 236) were drawn from a population of government desk-based employees across several departmental agencies. These volunteers were part of a larger state-wide intervention study. Workplace sitting and physical activity behaviour was measured both subjectively against the International Physical Activity Questionnaire, and objectively against ActivPal accelerometers before the intervention began. Criterion validity and concurrent validity for each of the three posture categories were assessed using Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients, and a bias comparison with 95 % limits of agreement. Test-retest reliability of the survey was reported with intraclass correlation coefficients. Criterion validity for this survey was strong for sitting and standing estimates, but weak for walking. Participants significantly overestimated the amount of walking they did at work. Concurrent validity was moderate for sitting and standing, but low for walking. Test-retest reliability of this survey proved to be questionable for our sample. Based on our findings we must caution occupational health and safety professionals about the use of employee self-report data to estimate workplace physical activity. While the survey produced accurate measurements for time spent sitting at work it was more difficult for employees to estimate their workplace physical activity.
Activity behaviors of university staff in the workplace: A pilot study
Authors Bird ML, Shing C, Mainsbridge CP, Cooley PD, Pedersen SJ
Journal Journal of Physical Activity & Health
Abstract Sedentary behavior is related to metabolic syndrome and might have implications for the long-term health of workers in a low activity environment. The primary aim of this pilot study was to determine activity levels of adults working at a University during work hours. A secondary aim was to determine the relationship between actual and perceived activity levels. Activity levels of university staff (n = 15, male = 7, age = 53 ± 7 years, BMI = 26.5 ± 2.5kg·m2) were monitored over 5 consecutive workdays using SenseWear accelerometers, then participants completed a questionnaire of their perception of workplace sedentary time. Each participant spent 71.5 ± 13.1% (358 ± 78 min) of their workday being sedentary (< 1.5 METs), 15.6 ± 9.0% involved in light activity (1.5–3 METs), 11.7 ± 10.0% in moderate activity (3–5 METs), and 1.1 ± 1.3% in vigorous activity (> 5 METs) (P < .0001). The mean difference between actual (SenseWear < 1.5 METs) and perceived sitting time was –2 ± 32%; however, perceived sedentary time was reported with a range of under-to-over estimation of –75% to 51%. This pilot study identifies long periods of low metabolic activity during the workday and poor perception of individual sedentary time. Interventions to reduce sedentary time in the workplace may be necessary to ensure that the work environment does not adversely affect long-term health.
A workplace intervention designed to interrupt prolonged occupational sitting: Self-reported perceptions of health from a cohort of desk-based employees over 26 weeks
Authors CP Mainsbridge, PD Cooley, SP Fraser, SJ Pedersen
Journal International Journal of Workplace Health Management

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate the effectiveness of a workplace intervention designed to interrupt prolonged occupational sitting time (POST) and its impact on the self-reported health of a cohort of desk-based employees.

Design/methodology/approach: In total, 43 participants received an interactive computer-based software intervention for 26 weeks. For the first 13 weeks the intervention passively prompted the participants to interrupt POST and perform brief bouts of non-purposeful movement. The second 13 weeks involved the passivity of the intervention being removed, with the intervention only accessible voluntarily by the participant. This approach was adopted to determine the sustainability of the intervention to change workplace health behaviour.

Findings: ANOVA results revealed a significant interaction between group and test occasion, F(2, 42)=2.79, p < 0.05, such that the experimental group increased their total health from pre-test to post-test (13 weeks), and to second post-test (26 weeks) with a medium effect size of Cohen’s d=0.37.

Research limitations/implications: An action research approach was implemented for this study, and hence the participants were organised into one group. Based on a communitarian model, the intervention aimed to monitor how desk-based employees adapted to specific health behaviours, and therefore a control group was not included.

Practical implications: Passively prompting desk-based employees to interrupt POST and perform non-purposeful movement at work improved self-reported health. Participant perceptions of health were maintained following the removal of the passive feature of the intervention.

Social implications: Interventions predicated on a social ecological model that modify how employees interact with the workplace environment might provide a framework for health behaviour change in populations where sitting is customary.

Originality/value: The passive approach used in this study removed the individual decision-making process to engage in health behaviour change, and established a sustainable effect on participant health.

The effect of an e-health intervention designed to reduce prolonged occupational sitting on mean arterial pressure
Authors CP Mainsbridge, PD Cooley, SP Fraser, SJ Pedersen
Journal Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Abstract To evaluate the effect of a workplace health intervention designed to reduce prolonged occupational sitting on the mean arterial pressure (MAP) of desk-based employees. This randomized controlled trial involved an experimental group who received an e-health intervention and a control group who did not. The 13-week intervention passively prompted participants to stand and engage in short bouts of office-based physical activity by interrupting prolonged occupational sitting time periodically throughout the workday. Mean arterial pressure was measured at pretest and posttest. Between pretest and posttest the experimental group significantly reduced their MAP, whereas MAP in the control group did not. A workplace e-health intervention designed to reduce prolonged occupational sitting was effective in decreasing MAP in desk-based employees.
An e-health intervention designed to increase workday energy expenditure by reducing prolonged occupational sitting habits
Authors SJ Pedersen, PD Cooley, CP Mainsbridge
Journal WORK: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation
Abstract Desk-based employees face multiple workplace health hazards such as insufficient physical activity and prolonged sitting. The objective of this study was to increase workday energy expenditure by interrupting prolonged occupational sitting time and introducing short-bursts of physical activity to employees' daily work habits. Over a 13-week period participants (n = 17) in the intervention group were regularly exposed to a passive prompt delivered through their desktop computer that required them to stand up and engage in a short-burst of physical activity, while the control group (n = 17) was not exposed to this intervention. Instead, the control group continued with their normal work routine. All participants completed a pre- and post- intervention survey to estimate workplace daily energy expenditure (calories). There was a significant 2 (Group) × 2 (Test) interaction, F (1, 32) = 9.26, p < 0.05. The intervention group increased the calories expended during the workday from pre-test (M = 866.29 ± 151.40) to post-test (M = 1054.10 ± 393.24), whereas the control group decreased calories expended during the workday from pre-test (M = 982.55 ± 315.66) to post-test (M = 892.21 ± 255.36). An e-health intervention using a passive prompt was an effective mechanism for increasing employee work-related energy expenditure. Engaging employees in regular short-bursts of physical activity during the workday resulted in reduced sitting time, which may have long-term effects on the improvement of employee health.
Assessment of the impact of a workplace intervention to reduce prolonged occupational sitting time
Authors PD Cooley, SJ Pedersen, CP Mainsbridge
Journal Qualitative Health Research
Abstract We aim to provide a better picture of the outcomes associated with implementing a nonpurposeful, physical activity, e-health intervention in a professional workplace. There is a need for health professionals to evaluate physical-activity-based workplace health interventions with a full range of measures. Using a social ecological model as a basis, we identify a range of subjective outcomes from 15 interviews of a cross section of participants. We document that not only did participants report a range of positive outcomes across multiple systems of influence, but they experienced some negative outcomes because of disruption to work flow and a changing of work habit. We conclude that using subjective evaluations provides a comprehensive picture of the factors that influence judgments of the efficacy of a workplace health intervention.
The effect of education on compliance to a workplace health and wellbeing intervention: Closing the loop
Authors Smith L, SJ Pedersen, PD Cooley
Journal Universal Journal of Public Health
Abstract Desk-based worksites are increasingly the focus of workplace health and wellbeing interventions. These interventions often utilize an educational session prior to participants engaging, yet limited studies have specifically examined the effect education has on compliance. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect pre-intervention participant education had on the odds of compliance to a passive e-health software program designed to increase non-exercise activity thermogenesis throughout the workday. Participants in the experimental group (n=46) were exposed to multifaceted pre-intervention participant education one day prior to initiating the e-health software intervention for an eight-week study period. The control group (n=33) also received the intervention for eight weeks, however these participants received no education prior to initiation. The e-health software had a self-report progress recording function, which recorded all logged movement entries to gain frequency counts of per day usage. The experimental group logged more active days, more movements per day and was significantly more compliant to the e-health software (OR=1.87, 95% CI = 1.56-2.24). A pre-intervention participant education session, coupled with a passive e-health software program, was an effective mechanism for decreasing prolonged employee sedentary periods and increasing movement throughout the workday.
A pilot study of increasing nonpurposeful movement breaks at work as a means of reducing prolonged sitting
Authors PD Cooley, SJ Pedersen
Journal Journal of Environmental and Public Health
Abstract There is a plethora of workplace physical activity interventions designed to increase purposeful movement, yet few are designed to alleviate prolonged occupational sitting time. A pilot study was conducted to test the feasibility of a workplace e-health intervention based on a passive approach to increase nonpurposeful movement as a means of reducing sitting time. The study was trialled in a professional workplace with forty-six participants (33 females and 13 males) for a period of twenty-six weeks. Participants in the first thirteen weeks received a passive prompt every 45 minutes on their computer screen reminding them to stand and engage in nonpurposeful activity throughout their workday. After thirteen weeks, the prompt was disabled, and participants were then free to voluntary engage the software. Results demonstrated that when employees were exposed to a passive prompt, as opposed to an active prompt, they were five times more likely to fully adhere to completing a movement break every hour of the workday. Based on this pilot study, we suggest that the notion that people are willing to participate in a coercive workplace e-health intervention is promising, and there is a need for further investigation.

UTAWL Hot desk1

The variety of desk options in the workplace has increased in recent time. Standing desks, treadmill desks, or bike desks have collectively become known as “hot desks” to encourage employees to reduce their sedentary behaviour while at work. Nonetheless, the physical and cognitive benefits of increasing movement opportunities at work has yet to be determined.

The Active Work Laboratory was purposefully built for the investigation of a range of movement-biased working postures to encourage a healthier work environment for desk-based employees.

UTAWL Hot desk2In our lab, a range of hot desks are available (see The Lab > Hot Desk Options above) for UTas staff to explore healthier work options. Several staff across the Newnham campus spend a portion of their workday in the lab utilising these desks for a healthy work alternative.

The UTAWL research team is currently conducting experiments that investigate the effects of these hot desks on a multitude of dependent variables including daily energy expenditure, perceptions of health and work related stress, and perceived barriers towards workplace health participation.

Most recently, we have begun to investigate the effect of increased work time movement opportunities on work productivity. Below are links to papers on this topic published by our lab team members.

Effect of standing or walking at a workstation on cognitive function: A randomised counterbalanced trial
Authors C Bantoft, MJ Summers, PJ Tranent, MA Palmer, PD Cooley, SJ Pedersen
Journal Human Factors
Abstract Objective: In the present study we examined the effect of working while seated, standing or while walking on measures of short-term memory, working memory, selective and sustained attention, and information processing speed. Background: The advent of computer-based technology has revolutionised the adult workplace, such that average adult full-time employees spend the majority of their working day seated. Prolonged sitting is associated with increasing obesity and chronic health conditions in children and adults. One possible intervention to reduce the negative health impacts of the modern office environment involves modifying the workplace to increase incidental activity and exercise during the workday. While modifications such as sit-stand desks have been shown to improve physiological function, there is mixed information regarding the impact of such office modification on an individual cognitive performance and thereby the efficiency of the work environment. Method: In a fully counterbalanced randomised control trial, we assessed the cognitive performance of 45 undergraduate students for up to a one-hour period in each condition. Results: The results indicate that there is no significant change in the measures used to assess cognitive performance associated with working while seated, standing, or while walking at low intensity. Conclusion: These results indicate that cognitive performance is not degraded with short-term use of alternate workstations.
A randomised control trial of the cognitive effects of working in a seated as opposed to a standing position in office workers
Authors BA Russell, MJ Summers, PJ Tranent, MA Palmer, PD Cooley, SJ Pedersen
Journal Ergonomics
Abstract Sedentary behaviour is increasing and has been identified as a potential significant health risk, particularly for desk-based employees. The development of sit-stand workstations in the workplace is one approach to reduce sedentary behaviour. However, there is uncertainty about the effects of sit-stand workstations on cognitive functioning. A sample of 36 university staff participated in a within-subjects randomised control trial examining the effect of sitting vs. standing for one hour per day for five consecutive days on attention, information processing speed, short-term memory, working memory and task efficiency. The results of the study showed no statistically significant difference in cognitive performance or work efficiency between the sitting and standing conditions, with all effect sizes being small to very small (all ds < .2). This result suggests that the use of sit-stand workstations is not associated with a reduction in cognitive performance.

The health issues associated with prolonged sitting are not restricted to the office workspace. It has been well established that children spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in front of screens (i.e., TV, gaming consoles, and computers), and during school.

A technological solution to this problem has been the introduction of exergaming (i.e., Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect). These options, amongst others, have been researched from a physiological perspective for some time. Nonetheless, virtual environment and natural environment comparisons have been less documented, particularly from a motor behaviour perspective.

In the UTAWL we have recently started to collect data in this area.

Our first research plan is to determine if exergaming is an acceptable alternative to health and physical education instruction, in terms of skill transference.


Our first motor control study regarding the effects of exergaming on choice reaction time involving midline crossing arm and leg movements is listed below.

Follow up research is planned to investigate if these affects are consistent across a wider range of populations.

We are also interested in measuring energy expenditure during similar virtual environment and natural environment physical activity choices.

If you are interested in exploring this research path in the UTAWL, please contact Dr. Scott Pedersen or you can tweet @ActiveWorkLab.

Caution regarding exergames: A skill acquisition perspective i. Caution regarding exergames: A skill acquisition perspective
Authors SJ Pedersen, PD Cooley, VJ Cruickshank
Journal Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Abstract Background: The advent of technology use in physical education is upon us. But the implications of using exergames as a substitute for traditional physical education instruction for some students raise questions. Although exergames have the potential to increase energy expenditure and motivation in some children, it is less clear whether they can provide skill acquisition benefits that are similar to those found in traditional physical education. Purpose: In a previous experiment from our laboratory, we found that deliberate practice can significantly reduce the planning time required for lateral arm movements. The purpose of this study was to determine if exergames can produce a similar effect, by reducing the processing time required for children to initiate arm movements to the contralateral and ipsilateral space. Participants and setting: Thirty children (boys = 15, girls = 15), between the ages of 7 and 12 years, participated in a pre- and post-test each taking 30 min and one 30 min treatment session in a university laboratory. Research design: A repeated measures design was employed to test the effects of deliberate laterality practice on processing speed. Children were randomly assigned (n = 10) to either a Nintendo Wii tennis contralateral movement experimental group, Nintendo Wii bowling ipsilateral movement experimental group, or handheld video-game control group. Each child participated in one 30 min treatment session. Data collection: Upper extremity choice reaction time (RT) was measured through 27 goal-directed aiming movements for each arm separately, during the pre-test and post-test. The stimulus–response trials occurred in three randomly presented directions (ipsilateral, contralateral, and midline). Data analysis: A 3 (treatment group) × 2 (age group) × 2 (test) × 3 (direction) mixed design analysis of variance with repeated measures on the last two factors was used to test for significant differences, with an alpha level set at 0.05. Findings: There were no significant treatment effects on RT across all groups indicating that a short bout of exergame training was unsuccessful in improving lateral movement processing. Conclusions: Deliberate laterality practice using exergames did not improve the motor processing speed of lateral arm movements in the same manner of traditional physical education as indicated by our previous research. Explanations as to why exergames do not exhibit the same positive transfer for skill acquisition as traditional physical education instruction are discussed within this paper.
Deliberate laterality practice facilitates sensory-motor processing in developing children
Authors SJ Pedersen
Journal Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Abstract Background: The innate ability for typically developing children to attain developmental motor milestones early in life has been a thoroughly researched area of inquiry. Nonetheless, as children grow and are required to perform more complex motor skills in order to experience success in physical activity and sport pursuits, the range of developmental abilities becomes increasingly variable. What is less known in the literature is if physical education and sport programmes deliberately designed to facilitate the motor development of these underlying abilities can improve the efficiency of purposeful movements in children. Purpose: To determine if the sensory-motor processing of lateral arm movements in children can be initiated quicker as a result of deliberate laterality practice. Participants and setting: Forty-five children (boys = 23, girls = 22), between the ages of 8 and 11 years, randomly selected from several Tasmanian (Australia) communities participated in this study. Each child participated in 1 day (∼90 min) of data collection in a laboratory at the university. Research design: A repeated measures design using upper-extremity choice reaction time (RT) tests, separated by a 30-min treatment was employed in the current study. To test the effects of deliberate laterality practice on processing speed, children were randomly assigned into contralateral ball-bouncing (CBB), ipsilateral ball-bouncing, or a control video-game group (n = 15 in each). The treatments were designed using tenants of Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer's theory of deliberate practice on expert performance, and the specificity of the training principle commonly discussed in the exercise science literature. Data collection: On an individual basis, each participant performed 27 empirical trials of goal-directed aiming movements with each arm separately, during the pretest and post-test. The stimulus-response trials occurred randomly in three different directions at the same distance from the starting position (ipsilateral, contralateral, and midline). Data analysis: A 3 (treatment group) × 2 (test) × 2 (arm) × 3 (direction) mixed design analysis of variance with repeated measures on the last three factors was used to test for significant differences, with an alpha level set at 0.05. Findings: Results revealed the CBB group experienced significantly shorter RTs in the contralateral direction during the post-test, likewise the ipsilateral group had significantly shorter RTs in the ipsilateral direction after the treatment. Further, the control group exhibited longer RTs in the contralateral direction compared to their pretest. Conclusions: Even after a short bout of deliberate laterality practice, children were able to reduce the processing speed associated with their lateral movements. Practitioners in the field may utilize these findings to foster developmental readiness in children wishing to improve their ability to perform the more complex motor skills requisite for successful sport and physical activity participation.

Review the potential Acitve Work Lab PhD projects on the research page.

 The Team

PhD proposals are being considered…


Malia Valenciano

Malia Valenciano

B.Ed. with honours

  • Dissertation title: Self-efficacy, a mediator of health behaviour change
  • Supervisors: Scott Pedersen and Dean Cooley
  • Follow Malia on @MaliaValenciano


Bridget Russell

Bridget Russell

B.Sc. with honours

  • Dissertation title: Effect of standing versus sitting in the workplace on cognitive function and work performance
  • Supervisors: Mathew Summers, Scott Pedersen, Matthew Palmer, Peter Tranent, and Dean Cooley


Christina Bantoft

Christina Bantoft

B.Sc. with honours

  • Dissertation title: The effects of sitting, standing and active standing on cognition
  • Supervisors: Mathew Summers, Scott Pedersen, Dean Cooley, Matthew Palmer, and Peter Tranent


Lachlan Smith

Lachlan Smith

B.Ed. with honours

  • Current position: Health and Physical Education Teacher at The Launceston Preparatory School, Launceston TAS
  • Dissertation Title: “We all know we should do it, but we still don’t”: The effect of education on health behaviour change.
  • Supervisors: Scott Pedersen and Dean Cooley
  • Awards: First class honours, 2013 Brain Pirkis Memorial Medal, 2013 ACHPER Prize
  • Follow Lachlan on @SmithLachy

 Lab News

To Follow the Active Work Lab click here

See what the media are saying about the UTAWL:


Active Work Laboratory
University of Tasmania – Newnham Campus
Locked Bag 1307
Launceston TAS 7250

Active Work Laboratory
University of Tasmania – Newnham Campus
Room G101
Newnham Drive, Newnham
Launceston TAS 7250