This quarter, we are pleased to present our featured researcher, John Swartzberg, MD, FACP. Dr. Swartzberg is a clinical professor emeritus at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, chair of the editorial board chair, and director of coverage at the Berkeley Wellness Letter since 2001. He is also past director of the UC Berkeley–UCSF Joint Medical Program.


Dr. Swartzberg spoke at the HealthyWorkplaces Science to Practice: Building the Best Workplace Conference on May 4th, where he presented research on workplace health. A book on the conference which will include material from his lecture will be available on the HealthyWorkplaces website soon.


For our July newsletter, we interviewed Dr. Swartzberg about the physiological responses to the workplace with an emphasis on stress and sedentary behavior. Dr. Swartzberg provided strong evidence to make the case for crucial workplace interventions.



Humans are biologically adapted to adjust to physical and psychological stressors with a physiological response – a critical mechanism to protect us from real threats, but problematic when the stress is chronic. In fact, chronic stress has been linked to decreased stem cell growth (Mol Psychiatry. 2014 December; 19(12): 1275-1283). Chronic stress is a great concern in the workplace — factors such as lack of insurance, shift work, long hours, low job control, and organizational injustice (pictured below) are all stressors that the employer can control for better outcomes.


Coupled with chronic stress, workplaces can have a strong influence on resilience of these stressors. Dr. Swartzberg shared research studies indicating that social support is a key factor in developing resilience to stress. In fact, numerous studies reveal that low social support is associated with heightened stress reactivity such as heart rate and blood pressure. Thus, considering building social relationships within the workplace is not just a fun perk– these benefits can be quite profound.


Swartzberg featured researcher image 2017


Between long seated commutes, sitting at work, and sitting at meetings, the sedentary nature of jobs have significant health consequences. Of 131 million working days lost to sickness, the largest contributing factor is back, neck, and muscle pain. Given that we know that sedentary behavior is a primary contributor to such musculoskeletal pain, workplace interventions are critical.

What solutions may combat sitting? One study researched the efficacy of 5- minute walking breaks every hour with women at high risk of type 2 diabetes. The results? These breaks reduced postprandial glucose, insulin, and non-esterified fatty acids. Other research indicates a 22% decrease in mortality with just 75- minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week. Also, studies show that spending time standing at the desk (as opposed to sitting) reduces cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal problems, mental health problems, and mortality.


These studies have major implications for wellness programs and policy. Interventions such a sit-stand desks and walking breaks are proven to improve health and increase productivity.



There’s good science behind the idea that modest interventions in the workplace translate into significant health benefits.

HealthyWorkplaces hopes that our research for Transamerica on wellness programs will encourage empirically validated, healthy interventions in the office.



·         J. Goh, J. Pfeer, S. Zenios. Behavioral Science & Policy, Spring 2015

·         Curr Diab Rep 2014;14:522) (Med Sci Sports Exerc 2014;46:940–6)

·         Mol Psychiatry. 2014 December; 19(12): 1275-1283