Health experts are calling on workers to address the prolonged amount of time they spend at their desks, with every hour spent sitting increasing an individual’s risk of death.
New research has found that poor mental health and chronic disease are both a consequence of prolonged periods of sitting, endangering a large percentage of the Australian population.
Australian adults today sit for an average of nine hours a day, making them more prone to developing certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
Research released this week by the University of Sydney found every hour of sitting increases a person’s risk of death, prompting health experts to call for workers to change their behaviour at work, not just at home.
The study called Australia’s Sitting Time Bomb says the risk of chronic health conditions can be seriously reduced by breaking up long periods of sitting.
Exercise no longer enough
Victoria University professor and leading sedentary researcher Stuart Biddle says it’s no longer enough to simply focus on exercising after work.
“People think that you can just go off for 30 minutes and get exercise and then sit for the rest of the day and everything is fine,” Mr Biddle says.
“If you’re sitting for the whole day at work, that definitely causes problems. It’s basically like your muscles shut down when you’re sitting and that seems to have quite negative effects.”
“Instead we need to take action to address the 50 per cent of the day we currently spend being sedentary, and create a larger proportion of the day in at least light physical activity.”
Standing reduces risk of death
Despite the health risks associated with sitting, the research found that for every hour a person spent standing, their risk of death reduced significantly.
The report’s lead researcher, University of Sydney professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, says the research found replacing an hour of sitting with an hour of walking reduced the risk of death by up to 14 per cent.
“Replacing a realistic amount of daily sitting time – such as three hours per day – with equivalent amounts of even very light physical activity could result in considerable important health benefits,” Mr Stamatakis says.
“It is absolutely imperative to find ways to incorporate some sort of movement into the daily office routine, even if only of a light intensity.”
Get creative about moving
Mr Biddle says it’s important to stand up at least every 30 minutes to reduce the risk of chronic disease like diabetes.
“I think you can actually work standing up a little more than some people think. With a little bit of creativity you can reduce your sitting time,” he says.
“You can stand up while you’re on the phone or while you’re reading a scrap of paper. Just the act of standing and moving, these things will definitely help.”
Tips for avoiding the problems of sitting
• Take phone calls standing up: stand up for phone calls if you don’t have the option of installing a standing desk
• Have standing meetings: have walking or standing meetings when you don’t need lots of paperwork in front of you
• Work on a laptop: work from a laptop or tablet so you are able to freely move around the office while finishing tasks
• Visit a colleague at their desk: instead of calling or emailing a colleague, speak to them at their desk
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