Office workers should use sit-stand desks to ensure they are on their feet for a minimum of two hours a day during working hours, according to new recommendations.

This daily quota should eventually be bumped up to four hours a day, breaking up prolonged periods of sitting with standing-based work and regular walkabouts, the guidelines say.

The research was commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) as a growing body of evidence links prolonged periods of physical inactivity with a heightened risk of serious illness and premature death.

The authors point out that in the UK sedentary behaviour now accounts for 60per cent of people's waking hours.

"For those working in offices, 65per cent-75per cent of their working hours are spent sitting, of which more than 50per cent is accumulated in prolonged periods of sustained sitting," they write.

"The evidence is clearly emerging that a first 'behavioural' step could be simply to get people standing and moving more frequently as part of their working day," they say, adding that this is likely to be more achievable than targeted exercise.

They said that as well as encouraging staff to embrace other healthy behaviours, such as cutting down on drinking and smoking, eating a nutritious diet, and alleviating stress, employers should also warn staff about the potential dangers of too much time spent sitting down either at work or at home.

"While longer term intervention studies are required, the level of consistent evidence accumulated to date, and the public health context of rising chronic diseases, suggest initial guidelines are justified," they added.

The study, led by the University of Chester, is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.