The white-collar office jobs of modern society offer little in the way of movement in the workplace. This is partly due to the extensive amount of time spent sitting, which unfortunately for many is a requirement and necessity to get work done. Whether that be in meetings, sending emails or plain old data entry the humble office worker spends a ridiculous amount of time sitting at a screen or talking business.
As a result of this, the majority of office workers are strapped into their desk plodding along about their day.
Eventually, the monotony of sitting will come to an abrupt halt as a worker starts poking their neck and rubbing their back whilst thinking:
“My necks starting to feel a little tight”
“Wish this headache would go away”
“My back’s playing up again”
Could this currently be you? Perhaps you know someone who often says these things? If you do you are in the majority. This means you know of what is coming up …. that’s right, time for a sick day.
In 2017 Australians on average we’re taking 8.8 sick days per year, a 7% increase on this figure since 2010.
This places employers at a significant loss for a multitude of reasons:
Increased workload for other employees → increasing stress within the workplace
Halting of current projects → delayed employer income and decreased customer satisfaction
Paying out sick leave without → expenditure without remuneration.
In addition to this, it costs the economy billions in loss of productivity. 44 billion to ballpark the numbers as you can see infigure 1.
This is then further increased by its cost to the primary healthcare sector and the expense on pharmaceuticalsFigure 1Primary Financial Burden of Absenteeism on the Australian Economy Resulting from Loss of Productivity
This negative financial effect of absenteeism within the workplace should be encouragement enough for employers to protect their employees’ health, and prolonged ‘occupational’ sitting is one of the factors that contributes to it.
If you can assist in decreasing sitting time in the workplace then you are on the way to improving the productivity and overall well-being.
,,How Much Are You Sitting at Work?,,
Office work places individuals at a greater risk of increased sedentary time throughout the day. The negative health outcomes will be talked about soon but first here are the facts related to how the humble desk jockey normally spends their day.
A Western Australian study by Parry and Straker (2013) looked into the relationship between office work and sedentary behaviour and what they found was eye-opening.
Workers spend over 81% of their time in a sedentary state which was significantly greater than non-work hours (p<0.001).
They had fewer breaks or interruptions in sedentary time compared to non-work hours.
A sedentary work life has also been suggested to decrease the likelihood of external physical activity participation. Which as we know is a necessity to overall health and wellness. However, due to the high level of sitting and physical in-activity throughout the day we must do more in the workplace to help combat this issue.
,,Prolonged Sitting and the Effect on our Health
While there is still much to learn about how sitting and sedentary behaviour affects health here is what we do know.
Increased Risk of Diabetes –The suggested link between prolonged sitting and diabetes is through the body’s insulin pathway. We contract our muscles to support our body weight when standing up and moving. If were or not using those muscles there is a decrease in uptake of glucose and fatty acids from the blood. This triggers our body’s homeostatic process which involves insulin – the regulatory hormone for blood sugar. If we are to constantly rely on insulin rather than movement to help regulate blood sugar we are more likely to overtax this insulin pathway and have a diabetic-like response blood sugar. Recent research suggests that people who sit for long periods have a 112% greater risk of diabetes
Decreased vascular function –Prolonged sitting results in decreased oxygen requirement of the muscles when compared to standing. This reduction in demand along with reduced blood pressure in a sitting posture decreases the velocity of blood flowing through the muscles and shear stresses inside smaller capillaries. These stresses are necessary to maintain endothelium function. The endothelium are cells that make up the inner lining of blood and lymphatic capillaries and are important for oxygen exchange, maintaining vascular tone and regulating chemicals and toxins within the blood. A reduction in this function is linked to various diseases including atherosclerosis.
Increase Risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) –Heart disease has been linked to prolonged sitting. Recent research has shown that men who sat watching television for 23 hours a week had a 167% greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease than those who watched 11 hours or less. There have also been links made to heart attack and stroke stating that people who are more sedentary have a 147% increase in suffering one of these events.
Increased Risk of Musculoskeletal Pain or Injury –Remaining in any posture is not ideal for the human body. We are all designed to be upright and move around. Remaining seated for the majority of the day hunched over a desk cause facilitate poor posturing. This lengthens our glutes and abdominals and can tighten up the upper trapezius, neck and shoulders muscles putting this muscles at a mechanical disadvantage. It can also shorten the hip flexor muscles and hamstrings which is not desired for longevity and may increase instances of injury. This, along with the reduced use of our muscles in a sitting posturing when compared to standing or moving vastly increased the likelihood of pain or injury. This means time off work that may have been avoided.
Increased risk of some cancers (preliminary studies) –There is currently preliminary research that suggests prolonged periods of sitting or sedentary behaviour throughout the day is linked with an increased likelihood of developing some cancers. These include; lung, colon and uterine cancers. However, the exact pathways and associated risk factors are still unknown.
Decreased Mental Health –Although the links are not fully understood in the literature, individuals who spend a greater period sitting increase their likelihood of having anxiety and depression compared to their more active counterparts.
There is no singular pathway as to why these negative health outcomes come about as a result of prolonged sitting and sedentary behaviour. The main point is rather how they intertwine with one another and form a multitude of increased risk factors. The scary thing is that many office workers and sedentary individuals are just not doing enough to tackle this issue, employee and employer alike. So, what can be done?
,,Ways to Reduce Sedentary Behaviour in the Office Environment
As Humans, we are all creatures of habit, both good and bad. Office workers are no exception to this. So, the number one thing we can do is become accountable for how we go about tasks in the workplace. Our habits must be acknowledged, and if they are modifiable change them for the better and help reduce the time spent sitting. This does not only go for sedentary behaviour but in all aspects of our lives.
Here are some tips to help decrease the time spent in prolonged sitting in the workplace.
Ask your boss if you can have a stand up desk or a variable desk with both sit and stand options. Stand-up desks have been shown to significantly reduce occupational sitting time and increase standing time
Use the printer down the corridor rather than the one in your office
Walk around whilst on your phone call rather than sat at your desk
Go find your colleague and talk to them rather than sending an email
Take the stairs to different floors rather than the elevator
Take frequent stand up breaks – Download –https://standapp.biz/an app that reminds you to stand up frequently during the day
If possible have meetings outside, this gets you up and moving
Walk outside to run something by a colleague if possible rather than emailing back and forth. Getting outdoors is also great to improve mental wellbeing and break up the monotony that sometimes coincides with office work.
Do NOT eat your lunch at your desk, head to the lunch room or kiosk to get moving
Open up your shoulders and move your neck every hour to change your posture. The more you do this the more aware you’ll be about how you’re sitting.
In summary, it’s important to remember our bodies were built to stand up and move, not sit for most of the day. Although at times this is unavoidable due to workplace cultures, it’s important to become aware of habits we CAN change and implement strategies to do so.
If you resonate with this article, would like to talk to us, are interested in one of our programs or workshops, we would love to help you or even come do a talk at your workplace.