Sedentary Work and Long Term Health: Not to be Taken Sitting Down!

sedentary work

The key findings of a study conducted by Safe Work Australia (March, 2016) on Sedentary Work and the impact on workers’ long term health show that our prolonged sitting is not good for us at all! Common sedentary behaviours include sitting working on a computer, driving a vehicle and operating equipment with one half of workers reporting sitting often or all of the time at work. Sedentary behaviour is common in Australia and is linked with an increased risk of premature mortality, chronic health disorders and detrimental work outcomes.

The Results

  • Based on self-report, Australian adults, on average, spend an estimated 5 hours per day sitting, with a quarter of the population sitting for more than 8 hours per day.
  • The exposure to occupational sitting is substantial with 81% of Australian workers reporting some exposure and half of workers reporting sitting at work ‘often’ or ‘all the time’.
  • Occupational sitting exposure can account for half of total sedentary exposure for workers.
  • Occupational exposure can be a hazard in both the total accumulation and the pattern of prolonged accumulation without interruptions.
  • Sedentary behaviour has been shown to be detrimentally associated with all-cause mortality, cardio-metabolic outcomes (including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity), some cancers, mental ill-health and health related quality of life.
  • 40% increase in the risk of death (from all causes) in those sitting 11 or more hours per day.

The Implications

The harm associated with sedentary work in the form of occupational sitting is potentially due to:

  • Insufficient dynamic muscle activity,
  • Insufficient energy expenditure,
  • Insufficient movement/lack of postural variety,
  • Insufficient interrupting of prolonged sitting, and
  • Diminished gravitational resistance and a number of other mechanisms.

The Ways to Mitigate

Ways to mitigate excessive occupational sitting and reduce sedentary work exposure include increasing movement and variation in posture. For example: changing from one posture to another – sitting to standing. This creates brief movement and varies posture. This variation in posture has been shown to reduce shoulder, back and lower back discomfort. In addition, including activities, such as cycling and walking into daily routines varies muscle activity which in turn reduces risks of static muscle overload and enhances circulation.

The study argues that we need to look at work differently with an aim to reduce occupational sitting exposure. The authors suggest that we look at reducing the overall accumulation of occupational sitting and interrupt prolonged bouts with other ways to perform the work.  We also need to create movement to vary our posture to reduce long term damage to our spine, shoulders and neck. Is it time that we consider the growing hazard of sedentary work?


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