Excessive sitting is Proven to be a Health Risk – So How can Progressive Workplaces minimise the risks?

Office work has, since its inception, been associated with sitting down to work. Using a computer, manning telephones and all the traditional tasks people do to conduct business – are usually done from a chair in front of a desk. But the latest research on workplace well-being suggests an inherent problem with this sedentary work life, in that the human body is designed to be in almost perpetual motion. This has major implications for OH&S.

OH&S has traditionally focused on eliminating and mitigating the risk of injury in the workplace, for example, preventing accidents, safety procedures for using heavy machinery and so on, but with so much recent research highlighting the negative health impacts of prolonged sitting, and the huge number of white collar jobs that require workers to be seated for most of their working day, it’s important that progressive workplaces and those charged with looking after the best interests of workers consider ways to alleviate the health risks associated with excessive sitting.

At the root of this new awareness is the fact that the human body thrives on movement and suffers when it’s forced to stay virtually motionless for long periods of time. According to the department of health in Australia, physical inactivity contributes to 6 per cent of all deaths worldwide and is the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable diseases (ie cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes). In fact, physical inactivity is the second highest cause of cancer in Australia, behind tobacco smoking and is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of the ischaemic heart disease burden.

As sitting at a desk & driving are a huge part of peoples work routine, we have gathered together some simple recommendations to enable workers in sedentary jobs to get more movement into their day.

Are You Aware of How Little you Move in a Day?

To become aware ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do you exercise in the mornings? If so how much?
2. How do you commute to work? Drive? Walk or bike, Train or Bus? How long is your commute there and back?
3. Do you drive or work on a Computer? How long a day is spent on the computer?
4. Do you eat lunch at your desk? If not and you walk to get lunch or go somewhere to eat it, how many minutes of walking is involved?
5. Eating dinner typically adds another 30 minutes of sitting
6. Do you watch tv, read or play video games at home for an average of about 3 hours?

If you don’t exercise and don’t walk or ride to work, and this is anything like your typical workday routine, understand and realise that you will spend, on average about 13 – 14 hours a day sitting flat on your bum! Add 8 hours of sleep and you probably have 21-22 hours of sedentary activity in your routine life, and statistically would be considered as living a very sedentary life and therefore are at increased risk of dying from a condition that your sedentary lifestyle will support (eg heart attack, diabetes, colon cancer etc). If this is you hopefully you feel alarmed and open to making some changes in your life.

What are some simple ways to increase activity and interrupt your sedentary lifestyle?

Stand Up & Move Around

Regular interruptions from sitting, even if it is as simple as just standing up, can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. A large recent review combining data from over one million participants found that just 60-75 minutes of physical activity a day eliminated the harms of sitting when it came to measuring death by all causes. So be mindful of interspersing sitting down to work with regular movement. Some ideas include – When on the phone, get up and pace – this can help with thinking and it’s easy to do if you use a mobile phone.

Use the Stairs

If your workplace has stairs, make it a point to use them instead of lifts or elevators. Even if you have a few floors to climb and you huff and puff, persevere – regular exercise like going up and down stairs is a fantastic way to alleviate sedentary jobs.

Go for A walk Once a Day

It could be in the morning before work, after work or even at lunchtime. One study looking at damage to blood vessels caused by sitting found that a gentle 10-minute cycling session completely mitigated decline in vascular function. So common sense suggests that up and down stairs and a short walk is bound to help.

Walk Around the Office at least once an Hour

Don’t Skype or Message Colleagues – Use collaboration as an excuse to stand up and move. Take a walk to your colleagues’ desk and ask a question. Get yourself a cup of tea.

Stretch

Once every hour stand up and stretch, or go for a short walk somewhere pleasant and stretch.

Table Tennis Anyone?

Progressive employers can encourage movement by doing things like installing a table tennis table in a playroom, or organise guided light stretching and exercise once a day.

Awareness and Education is the Key

As is the case in most progressive outcomes, education, increased awareness and supportive policy and infrastructure are the key to improving health and wellness outcomes in the workplace.

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