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How long do your staff spend sitting at a desk?

By Angela Knox | Jul 12, 2020

Why sitting at work desks for long periods of time is harmful to long-term health

 

It is a given that most people who work for companies in offices spend a large amount of time sitting at a desk working at a computer – it’s unavoidable in this day and age.

Now more than ever, physical fitness in the workplace is a hot topic which can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

But over the years since the desktop PC, laptop or tablet became go-to resources for all busy executives, a bit of complacency has crept in when it comes to the effects that prolonged use of these devices in the same seated position may be having on all of our health.

The phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking’ has become the new mantra for highlighting the dangers of sitting down for too long without getting any form of exercise.

Now smoking has long been fully outed and effectively banned from daily life, and smokers and non-smokers alike are benefiting from this welcome development.

So the next phenomenon in danger of becoming the new scourge of our lives is the computer desk, and the length of time we all spend sitting behind it – whether that’s in an office environment or at home or other remote workplace.

And there is a clear correlation between the amount of people who work in sedentary jobs and some of our current health challenges relating to overweight, obesity, diabetes, back and musculoskeletal problems, heart problems, depression, and many other preventable conditions, or NCDs (non-communicable diseases).

 

Reasons why employers should take note

 

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees, especially in these times when employment law is constantly changing, more legislation is coming onto the statute books, and employers’ responsibilities are becoming more wide-ranging.

This is a good thing, given the amount of time most of us spend at work.  After all, having some responsibility for employees and their wellness and wellbeing (or lack of it) day in day out is a serious business and should be treated as such.

Many people have become work obsessed and need to be forcibly peeled away from their computer screens – this is not good for health and productivity and should be discouraged by all employers.

Employees often feel as if they are trapped on an imaginary hamster wheel of work, whereby the more hours they slave over their desk, the more productive they will become, the more promotions they will win, and the more money they will earn.

This is usually far from the truth, and research data from many separate sources give a stark reminder of some of the current problems which are mounting up in the workplace – some of these are summarised below: have a read and think about how you may need to bring changes into your workplace.

 

Statistics from the NHS website show that 4 out of 5 people of working age in the UK alone work at a desk, which equates to about 24 million people.

The British Heart Foundation reveal that 59% of men and 54% of women in England in 2012 spent 5 or more hours in their working day sitting or standing still, and 13% of UK adults are sedentary for longer than 8.5 hours a day; in the Netherlands and Denmark the figure is 25%.

A recent study carried out by the University of Queensland explored the problem of ‘Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behaviour’ and examined the health issues of all types of sitting activity including work, car travel, and TV watching, concluding that amongst other things, being sedentary for any length of time regardless of whether you exercise or not can dramatically increase your chances of suffering from NCDs and increased mortality.  They call it the ‘active couch potato’ syndrome – so even if you are doing regular exercise, if you then spend several hours watching TV and/or sitting at your desk without breaks you are still at risk.  It also explained that whilst adults can meet public health guidelines on physical activity, if they then sit for prolonged periods, their metabolic health is compromised.

The UK analysis of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study found physical inactivity and low physical activity to be the fourth most important risk factor in the UK. They estimated that physical inactivity contributes to almost one in ten premature deaths (based on life expectancy estimates for world regions) from coronary heart disease (CHD) and one in six deaths from any cause.

The World Health Organisation have identified physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Physical inactivity levels are rising in many countries with major implications for the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the general health of the population worldwide.

 

Sources:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170301130518.htm

https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/physical-activity-may-offset-health-risks-of-desk-bound-work-119042300725_1.html

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/sitting-for-long-hours-at-your-desk-it-can-kill-you/articleshow/65657624.cms?from=mdr

https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/763/the-nudge-to-budge-why-you-should-step-out-of-that-chair

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/

Angela Knox

Angela Knox

I am a co-founder and director of Keep Fit Eat Fit Wellbeing Ltd and have come from a business and marketing background over many years, with a particular interest in everything to do with health, fitness and overall wellbeing. Having worked in offices for decades, I know the pitfalls of too much sitting at a desk, the challenges of fitting the gym around other commitments, and all the issues addressed within our website. The personal experiences of me and my partner Mark were the original inspiration for the concept of this website. Enjoy!