The Sedentary Office: Promoting Physical Activity at the Workplace

Office work goes hand in hand with sedentary lifestyle mainly because the technology used in workplaces has changed the way we work. Whilst far from being a job with death-defying tasks, office work can also be a hazardous job. Office workers sitting all day risk physical and mental health problems. And according to the British Heart Foundation, exercising in a gym isn’t enough to undo the damage.

Promoting Avoidance of Prolonged Sedentary Work 

In a paper by J.P. Buckley and A. Hedge et al, an international group of experts convened to provide guidance for employers to minimise prolonged periods of sedentary work. For desk-based workers, they should aim to initially progress towards accumulating 2 hours per day of standing and light walking during working hours, eventually progressing to a total of 4 hours per day. To attain this, sitting-based work should be regularly broken up with standing based-work, the use of sit-stand desks, or taking of short active standing breaks. 

However, a response written in a BMJ blog says that interventions such as using environmental and ergonomic adaptations (using adjustable-height desks) have a relatively high initial cost and therefore unlikely to be achievable in most workplaces. Instead, initial recommendations have to provide realistic targets that can be accumulated throughout the working hours such as encouraging standing or walking meetings. 

Physical Activity 

If your job involves sitting throughout the day, do everything you can to avoid sitting. Try to stand up when you’re on the phone or in meetings. 

Instead of doing meeting around a conference table, make your meetings more mobile. You can go for a walk. If it’s nice outside, an outdoor meeting would be a good idea. 

Other ideas to be more active in your workplace include using stairs instead of an elevator, eating lunch away from your desk, taking a break from your desk job every half an hour, and walking to an officemate’s desk instead of phoning or emailing them. 

If possible, start a wellness program. Although creating a wellness program can be a daunting and expensive task, it was shown to reduce sick leave absenteeism, health care costs, and worker’s compensation and disability cost claims. 

The Effect of Sedentary Behaviour 

Sedentary employees may suffer from gradual deterioration in health if they do not exercise or do not lead an otherwise physically active life. Most commonly the health problems these employees experience are disorders in blood circulation and injuries affecting their ability to move. 

Workers who spend most of their time sitting may also suffer other, less specific adverse health effects including poor fitness, reduced heart and lung efficiency, and digestive problems. 

Long periods of physical inactivity raise your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Prolonged periods of sitting have been linked to a greater likelihood of disease. It was also found that each hour spent watching TV is linked to an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 18%. Most likely, the time spent watching TV is spent sitting down. This activity is not far from working all day while sitting. 

The top and bottom of the matter is that the modern world is facing an epidemic of sedentary workers, which has a drastic effect on overall health. The key to improving health is to move more. After all, it is the workplace where we spend most of our time (or lives). So get up and out of your chair. It won’t hurt to move a bit more.