Sedentary Behaviour: A Threat to Global Health
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an alarming drop in physical activity levels among adults in the workforce. Furthermore, sedentary behaviour, such as prolonged periods of sitting, rose due to stay-at-home restrictions. In fact, it has been shown that approximately 71% of our waking hours are spent engaging in sedentary behaviours. More recently, a return to office life has done little to improve the current state of affairs.
A leading expert in the field Dr. Edwards Laskowski poignantly describes: ‘‘An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight a hours a day with no physical activity has a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking’’.
As a startling conclusion, the publication Sedentary Time and its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalisation stated:
“Prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.”
In other words, even if you exercise daily, you could still be at a high risk of health problems due to sitting for long hours every day.
A typical adult in the workforce commutes to and from work, spends their day glued to a computer screen, only to unwind in front of their TV before bed – That’s a lot of time spent off your feet! Recent studies have described alarming health implications of sedentary behaviour in the population: such as, increased blood pressure, excess body fat, and high blood sugar. Let’s take a closer look at some of these now.
How to Limit Sedentary Behaviour at Work
For many people, much of their time at work is spent sitting at a desk, often in front of a computer – That’s at least 40 hours a week, 48 weeks of the year. As such, any attempt to limit the amount of time we spend engaging with sedentary behaviour will go a long way to reducing the risk of developing numerous health problems. The logical question is, of course, what are ways in which we can reduce sedentary behaviour at work.
Standing desks are a simple solution with a big impact. Standing desks can reduce back pain as well as lower the risk of weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes. They can also increase productivity.
As an employer, you can offer employees the option to choose a standing desk over a regular one. If that’s not feasible, you can establish a shared standing office space for employees to work from as they please.
For more information on standing desks and the optimal way to set them up in your office space.
At a standing meeting, attendees stand for part of the meeting or the full duration of it. This action breaks up long hours of sitting at work and it has the dual purpose of drawing attention to the length of your meeting. You can keep a meeting to the point and on task by standing.
As an employer or boss, make this an optional activity, in case some employees do not want, or are able, to participate.
Interestingly, standing meetings have been shown to cut the overall duration of meetings by up to 25%.
Walking meetings get people away from their desks, which splits up long hours of sedentary behaviour for office workers. It’s also a good excuse to get outside, which has a number of additional health benefits.
Walking for the duration of your meeting is a great strategy for a small group of people, just two or three. Pick a destination, walk through a nearby park, or take a stroll around the building instead of sitting still in an office or coffee shop. It’s an ideal opportunity to get up, stretch your legs, and squeeze in a little bit of exercise – plus, the act of walking has been shown to boost creative output by up to 60%.
As an employer, you can encourage walking meetings to get your employees up from their desks and moving. If you’re meeting with an employee, ask them if they would be interested in walking instead. For more details, Harvard Business Review have compiled some helpful tips on how to get the most out of your walking meetings.
Stairs Over Lifts
Choose the stairs over the lift whenever you can. This extra bit of physical activity will break up your sedentary day while helping you stay fit and healthy. You should even challenge others in your workplace to do the same.
Employers can encourage taking the stairs amongst their staff by rewarding those who do. Consider making it a competition between employees, departments, or building floors. Who took the stairs the most in one month? Or how many days in a row? There’s nothing wrong with some ‘healthy competition’ around the office!
Stand or Walk When on Break
When you take a break at work, get up from your desk. Try to avoid browsing the internet or social media sites and instead take a walk outside or even just a stroll around the office. Not only will this give your eyes a much-needed rest after hours spent staring at a screen, but it will get your blood pumping as well – leaving you feeling more energised for the rest of the day. After all, every little bit counts when it comes to limiting your sedentary behaviour at work.
As an employer, encourage your employees to get away from their desks during break times. Have a clean space for your workforce to take breaks and if the weather suits, suggest they take those breaks outside. Don’t forget to lead by example and get away from your own desk from time to time.
Key Takeaway: Champion The Health and Wellbeing of Your Employees
While today, World Health Day, is a welcome reminder for all of us – employees and management alike, to look after our physical and mental health in the workplace. Any attempt to grapple the adverse health effects caused by a disproportionate amount of time engaging in sedentary behaviour should be on the forefront of all of our minds as we return to the humdrum of office life. As listed above, the promotion of the aforementioned strategies to reduce sedentary behaviour in the workplace offers a practical solution to what is a stark threat to global health.
On a final note, while a reduction in sedentary behaviour does not represent a cure-all for the adverse health difficulties experienced by workers, it presents an opportunity for employers to champion the health and wellbeing of their employees – creating meaningful change in the process.
Published 7 April 2022