Time to take a stand: workplace health matters
You may have heard of the emerging science showing the dangers of prolonged sitting - and the significant health benefits associated with breaking up and reducing “Sitting Time” with increased standing or basic movement on a daily basis. We launched the Get Britain Standing in 2014 and I am delighted to say we have made great headway educating the public, media and employers on the health risks and the multiple benefits of reducing sitting time by 3 hours per day at the office. British people sit for 8.9 hours each day (office workers sit 10 hours on average). Add to that sleeping hours and you get to a total of over 70% of your typical work day being physically inactive. In recent years a variety of major international research studies has produced compelling evidence that sitting for more than 4 hours each day leads to significant increased risk of contracting: heart disease, diabetes, cancers (bowel, womb and lung), depression and muscle degeneration.
The dangers of prolonged sitting – nine ways excessive sitting can harm you (Source: Get Britain Standing)
Regardless of your level of physical activity, the result is increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, backache, dementia, depression and muscle degeneration.
The Unhealthy Desk
Prolonged sitting in the workplace can contribute to major health issues and regardless of how physically active you are, the risks are not necessarily reduced. The traditional office environment – a place where most employees can spend up to 6 - 8 hours sat at their desks – may well be the single biggest contributing factor to an early grave. The latest evidence, presented by the Get Britain Standing campaign makes for uncomfortable reading, with every hour you sit each day above the 4 hour guideline level leading to increased risks. Furthermore “multiple research shows that increased exercise for an hour or so per day can’t undo the negative effects of sitting for eight hours, any more than running a mile can’t erase the damage caused by a smoking habit”.
According to Gavin Bradley, founding director of the new Get Britain Standing campaign, Britain was at the forefront of research on sedentary behaviour. London Transport conducted trailblazing research in the 1950s, which concluded that bus drivers suffered double the level of heart disease than bus conductors. The study was followed up in the 1960s when the Post Office completed similar research discovering that post office counter workers suffered double the level of heart disease than postmen.
Dr Mike Loosemore, of University College Hospital, London, believes active individuals reduce their risk of heart disease by 40% compared with their inactive counterparts. High blood pressure can be reduced by almost 50%, the risk of recurrent breast cancer by almost 50% while the likelihood of colon cancer goes down by over 60%.
So what defines an “active individual”? The government recommends that adults complete 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week to help achieve the above gains. But, as Dr Loosemore notes, “when adults were monitored, barely 7% of men and 4% of women were carrying out enough activity to fulfil them”.
Gavin Bradley is very clear on what needs to be done: “The primary focus has to be reducing our sitting time – especially at work. It all starts with assessing your ‘sitting calculator’, just as you assess your daily calories, weekly exercise and alcohol consumption. Like 5 a day, you should be sitting no more than four to five hours a day.”
“It is essential not only to break up sitting time but to reduce it on average by three to four hours per person. The sit-stand desk, which enables your workstation to go up and down, is the optimal solution. By mixing up your time at the desk between sitting and standing, you make huge leaps forward to improving your wellness in the workplace, while increasing productivity too.”
Sit-stand workstations offer multiple benefits including improved health and wellbeing, productivity, engagement and reduced absenteeism.
Bradley says: “Throughout Scandinavia, over 90% of office workers have sit-stand desks. In the UK, the figure is less than 1%”. Whilst Britain may have been slow on the uptake, both manufacturers and end-user businesses are starting to heed the message. Up until recently, sit-stand desks were only available from specialist ergonomic equipment dealers. They would often be specified by a DSE (display screen equipment) assessor or a doctor, on a reactive basis, to individuals who already had chronic backache or neck pains.
Now pioneering companies are latching on the benefits of sit-stand. Liberty Insurance, King Entertainment and Gaz de France each have more than 400 sit-stand workstations. Virgin Media is about to commence a trial including 40 sit-stand workstations in one of its call centres which will be monitored and evaluated with the University of Chester. The key variables to be measured will include payback savings from:
1. Improved wellness
2. Higher productivity
3. Increase employee engagement
4. Reduced staff attrition and absenteeism
The Active Working Summit will be held on Thursday 28th January and hosted by EY (formerly Ernst & Young). This is the first event to cover “The sedentary office – a case for change” in the UK and it has generated a high level of interest.
It is targeted at leading companies with large numbers of office-based staff and pioneers in employee wellbeing, engagement and productivity.
There will be keynote speakers, including leading UK and international experts on sedentary science, workplace design and research, ergonomics and case studies from companies pioneering sit-stand working. Summit sessions will cover the health risks of prolonged sitting (global research conclusions), health and behavioural attitude from sit-stand trials (UK research conclusions), the business case for sit-stand working (with case studies) and sit-stand solutions explained. The moderator will be BBC newsreader and presenter Julian Worricker.
Get Britain Standing has a unique Sitting Calculator that enables you to calculate whether you’re daily routine is exposing you to higher risk of ill health.
The Active Working Summit takes place on Thursday 28 January 2016 at More London Place, London SE1 2AF EY HQ (formerly Ernst & Young). For further details and bookings visit: http://activeworking.com/summit/
Get Britain Standing. See website for research source links.
BBC News Health, 20 June 2014, “Exercise guidelines hard to meet” by Dr Mike Loosemore.