Sedentary office work threatening ‘morbidity and mortality’

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New research published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine has revealed the extent of the damage caused by sitting in the same position for hours on end at work.

The study’s findings has resulted in an international team of experts calling for office-based workplaces to ensure that their employees spend a minimum of two hours each day either standing or moving around in order to protect them from illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The research was commissioned by the British government, which sought a set of guidelines for employers in regards to the health of workers who are employed in inactive roles.

An expert group – which included an Australian expert from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute – found that at the absolute minimum, workplaces should be ensuring that staff are standing or walking for two hours a day. It was also found that this should eventually increase to four hours per day.

“In the past five years, an accelerated amount of evidence has been published on the links between sedentary living, including time at work, and the leading causes of morbidity and mortality (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers),” the researchers wrote.
The authors noted that it is estimated that we now use 732 kilojoules less each day than we did fifty years ago; by this standard, we will be engaging in 35% less physical activity by 2030.

“Most of this reduced energy expenditure has… been in the form of displacing light physical activity or sedentary behaviours and not necessarily from decreased active leisure, exercise or sporting pursuits, which have traditionally been the sole focus of many health, social and political campaigns,” the study’s authors said.

However, they warned against simply installing stand-up desks; according to the researchers, workplaces need to have long-term strategies in place in order to tackle the issue.

They added that these strategies are likely to save organisations money, considering that the biggest drivers of sick leave are back, neck and muscular pain.

The study’s authors recommended the following approaches:
-       Start trying to get people standing or moving for two hours a day, then progress to four
-       Prolonged static standing positions should also be avoided
-       Adjustable desks are recommended, so people can regularly change their work position
Shane Bilsborough, former Go for Your Life health campaign ambassador and co-founder of the exercise challenge Stepathlon, previously told HC/HRM that office workers may have one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

“The body of evidence is now overwhelming,” he said. “Today’s sedentary office environment has a more far-reaching negative health impact than even the direst reports of just a few years ago.”

Bilsborough added that the issue with long-term sitting isn’t a new one.

“It started in air raid shelters in World War II,” he said. “People were sitting in concrete rooms for long periods of time and they noticed that there was an elevation in heart attacks. This is nothing to do with weight, if blood can’t get from the bottom of your body to your heart, it becomes viscous and clogs. This isn’t something sudden; it’s been around for a long time.”
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