The risk of critical illnesses and total and permanent disabilities may be higher among those who spend more time sitting down at work, according to a new literature review.
Safe Work Australia recently commissioned Curtin University to examine reports that explored the effects of sedentary employment environments on staff health. The results showed that people who spent long, unbroken periods of time sitting down had more incidences of serious illnesses.
These included musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Overall, early deaths were more commonplace in those who remained seated for large portions of the workday.
Interestingly, the research revealed that even vigorous exercise among excessive sitters failed to counteract these health issues. This suggests physical inactivity is a separate problem altogether.
Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter claimed the study should act as a wake-up call to anyone who is rooted to their office chair during the day.
“Sitting for longer than 30 minutes without a mini-break, and sitting all day at work is likely to be detrimental to health,” she stated.
“Early evidence suggests occupational interventions targeting sitting reduction can substantially reduce occupational sitting, at least in office workplaces.”
The research indicated that prolonged sitting is unhealthy for a number of reasons, including poor posture, low energy usage, minimal muscle activity and inadequate movement.
Tackling a sedentary lifestyle
According to Safe Work Australia, around 50 per cent of employees say they are often or always sitting down in the office.
However, Professor Leon Straker from Curtin University’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science claimed there are various ways people can counteract workplace inactivity.
“For some jobs there are simple ways to prevent prolonged occupational sitting, such as standing to read a document, having a standing or walking meeting, standing while talking on the phone, or walking to deliver a message to a colleague rather than emailing,” he explained.
Previous studies on workplace activity have produced similar results to the Curtin University research. For example, a Medibank experiment revealed that 77 per cent of time spent at work could be described as ‘sedentary’.
Moderate to vigorous exercise, on the other hand, comprised just 5 per cent of the average workday. The study involved fitting participants with an accelerometer to measure their activity levels both during work and non-work hours. The most sedentary employees recorded during the research were call centre staff.