The “sitting disease.” The epidemic affecting sedentary workers

The WHO (World Health Organisation) has ranked physical inactivity as the fourth main risk factor for causes of death, after high blood pressure, smoking and high blood glucose.  Sedentary behaviour has also been associated with many serious health conditions including high blood pressure, depression, diabetes and musculoskeletal conditions and therefore increases the risk of ill health. As many people spend much of their working day sitting in the office, the workplace can be considered as a root cause of the “sitting disease”.

It is important to understand that a sedentary person is different from an inactive person. An inactive person is someone who does not meet the recommended guidance of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. Therefore regardless of how much exercise an individual does, even active individuals are at risk of ill health if they are sedentary for long periods of time.

The risks of sedentary behaviour can be considerable. After just 90 minutes of continuous sitting, the effects of gravity can cause poor posture, forcing the body to lean forwards and down. Electrical nerve activity in the leg muscles shuts off, calorie burn drops to one per minute, enzymes that break down fat drop by 90% and blood flow is restricted in the lower body. Unfortunately all this happens whether you exercise every day or do no activity at all.

As absence through ill-health can be considerably costly to businesses, and employees spend so much time at work, Employers need to consider their role in providing workplace strategies to help improve health and wellness at work. In the long term, healthier, happier employees are likely to be more productive and engaged at work.

Encouraging more movement at work doesn’t have to be costly. Simple measures can be implemented to encourage employees to get up from their desk and move regularly throughout the working day. Cultural change needs to occur to show employees that it is ok to move around, to be seen to move around and not be a slave to their desk at all times.  The following strategies are simple ideas that can be implemented cheaply and quickly in many workplaces:

  • Turn meetings into walking meetings
  • Every 90 minutes walk up and down 2 flights of stairs or briskly round the block
  • Put a note up near the lift to encourage use of the stairs
  • Set a 15 minute time slot for everyone to get away from their desk
  • Set a mile-a-day challenge – encourage everyone to record when they have walked for a mile or more in a 30 day period and give a prize to the person who has done the most
  • Setting an hourly timer to encourage employees to stand, stretch, or change position
  • Consider providing a standing desk which employees can share for short periods each during the day

As individuals spend so much time at work, and absence can be so costly, employers are recognising that workplace wellness programmes are becoming higher on the agenda. Occupational health professionals are well placed to advise on suitable initiatives.

For help identify strategies to get your employees on the move, call us now.

On December 30, 2015, posted in: Occupational Health Posts by