Modern Ergonomics: Sitting Too Long At Work?

The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently released a paper on exploring the impacts of sedentary offices, highlighting the problem of sitting all day. The study urged employers to change the culture of their workplaces in order to increase the health and wellbeing of their employees. 

The findings put forth in the paper (titled The sedentary office: an expert statement on the growing case for change towards better health and productivity [1]) brought together current evidence including long-term epidemiological studies in order to present employers with guidance on the important issue.  

The crux of it is this: workers need to stand up and move around more. The magic number, according to the expert panel, was 2 hours of standing and light activity per day during work hours, eventually working up to a total accumulation of 4 hours per day (prorated to part-time hours).

A generation or two ago, this would not seem like such a lofty target. However, many modern workplaces are oriented around the desk, the computer and the phone. The health results here can be very concerning. For example, studies show that adults who sit for ten hours per day have an estimated 34% higher risk of early death, even if they exercise regularly [2].

This seems like a high number, and indeed it is, but the study found that even when daily exercise was considered, people who sat for ten hours per day were still at risk. The risk factors decreased for every hour they managed to get moving during the day.

The recommendations are consistent with the “Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviours Guidelines” issued by the Australian Department of Health. The guidelines urge people across all age groups to spend less time in prolonged sitting [3].

So how does one do this? On the extreme end of the scale, we have the use of standing desks, but for some these may be laden with their own health risks which include pooling of blood in the lower legs, and varicose veins [4].  Suggestions from ‘The Sedentary Office’ include the following [1]:

  • Seated-based work should be regularly broken up with standing-based work.
  • Employees should be encouraged to use sit-stand desks, or take short-active standing breaks.
  • Employers should promote (among other important health messages) the fact that “prolonged sitting, aggregated from work and in leisure time, may significantly and independently increase the risk of cardio-metabolic diseases and premature mortality.

For workplaces, employers and even concerned or wellness-focused employees, these concepts can be implemented in creative ways. Some workplaces are starting to place wastepaper bins away from desks so employees must get up and walk to them. Others are adding ‘standing items’ to meeting agendas so to encourage participants to get up and move around. These are just a couple of ways that workplaces can start to structure in active time and work towards the magic number of 2-4 hours standing during a workday.

The impacts of prolonged sitting may affect large businesses, departments and bureaucracies, but change starts with empowered individuals. It’s time to get moving and reduce risk.

 

References

[1] Buckley, P, Hedge, A, Yates, T, Copeland, R, Loosemore, M, Hamer, M, Bradley, G and Dunstan, D (2015), “The Sedentary Office: An Expert Statement on the Growing Case for Change Towards Better Health and Productivity,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2015/06/30/bjsports-2015-094618, doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094618

[2] Chau, JY, Grunseit, AC, Chey, T, Stamatakis, E, Brown, W, Matthews, C, Bauman, AE and van der Ploeg, HP, (2013), “Daily Sitting Time and all cause mortality: a meta-analysis,”  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24236168 , 2013 Nov 13;8(11):e80000. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0080000. eCollection 2013

[3] Staff Writer, (2015), ‘Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviours Guidelines,’ Department of Health, http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines retrieved 17 July 2015

[4] Staff Writer, (2015), “Office Workers Stand Up From Your Desk for Two Hours a Day,” The Conversation, http://theconversation.com/office-workers-stand-up-from-your-desk-for-two-hours-a-day-42552 retrieved 17 July 2015

Comments are closed.