Sedentary behaviour and your health

It might seem strange to hear the average working week in Australia has reduced by 2 hours per week however, that doesn’t mean people are working less, it purely represents a shift from productivity to outcome based performance measurements. Tied together with the development of new technologies and the introduction of flexible working options including working from home, it means workers days are stretched longer, they are available more of the time and are working more hours they don’t register. Ultimately this leads to more sedentary behaviour at work.

Interestingly, the first occupational study looking at health outcomes in those who were physical active at work versus those who weren’t was published way back in 1951. The Morris paper looked at the rates of coronary heart disease (CHD) in bus drivers compared to ticket conductors and it was no surprise to see bus drivers had a higher incident of CHD compared to ticket conductors. To confirm these findings Morris and Crawford then compared the risk of heart attacks between postmen and government clerks and found a similar result; government clerks more often suffered heart attacks than postmen.

Fast-foward to 2019 where we now know that sedentary behaviour is associated with higher blood pressure, total cholesterol and poor cognition and academic performance. It is also strongly associated with all cause mortality, fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome along with being moderately associated with ovarian, colon and endometrial cancer.

Time to get moving!

As Morris showed in his studies, workers who were more active had lower incidents of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and this rings true today. In 2018 the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report highlighted the importance of physical activity which is linked to improved sleep, cognition, minimizing weight gain, reduced risks of depression, anxiety, dementia, colon, breast, bladder, endometrial, oesophagus, stomach, kidney and lung cancer as well as reduced risks of chronic preventable diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There is also low grade evidence indicating sit to stand desk (ie. being more active) reduces low back pain in office workers.

Breaking up sedentary behaviour doesn’t need to be difficult, it might involve introducing a sit to stand desk to help modulate posture throughout the day, getting up from the desk and walking around the office at regular intervals, it could include exercising during the lunch break and for the extremely busy people think about replacing your car commute to work with a ride or run. Whatever it is you chose to break up your sedentary behaviour with, it is important that you are reaching the minimum guidelines for physical activity – 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week.

We know that physical activity helps to mitigate the risks of developing preventable diseases like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes etc associated with a sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity. It is also known that exercise helps to improve memory and cognition.

A recent small scale study showed that by engaging in regular exercise at work people are more engaged, less tired, more motivated and have greater energy. So make physical activity a regular part of your lunch time break.

Exercising at work to boost your productivity.

There is a wealth of data showing the negative impacts sitting for extended periods has on the body. With increased risks of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and certain types of cancer. This data helped spawned the sit to stand desk movement.

The evidence is becoming clear on why we should stand during office hours, but what isn’t clear is what happens when we are away from the office. Do we keep standing or do we tend to sit more. The article in this link shows one of the first studies to look at the sit to stand behaviour of office workers. Its findings are intriguing, revealing that those people who use sit to stand desks, will tend to be more sedentary when they are at home. Somewhat negating the positive effects standing throughout the day has.

Sit to Stand Desk Behaviour

This is a new article published in the December 2012 issue of the Spine Journal which looked at workplace back injuries and the early predictors of spine surgery.

The article reveals that those who had a reduced rate of spine surgery following a workplace back injury were those under 35 years of age, women, Hispanics and those whose first provider was a Chiropractor.

42.7% of injured workers who saw a surgeon first, under went back surgery. While only 1.5% of injured workers who saw a Chiropractor first under went back surgery.

There is a very strong association between back surgery and the first provider seen for an injury.