PUBLIC HEALTH
June 9, 2015

Desk Jockeys, Couch Potatoes, It's Time to Act

Guidelines for workers and employers to help get more people off their seats and on their feet.

There's been enough talk about the hazards of sitting and too little action, according to a panel of international experts. They want office workers out of their chairs and on their feet for at least two hours a day during working hours. The group proposes some ways to help people get off their butts and on their feet for more hours of the day.

Studies old and new have shown the perils of too much sitting. Yet many people still spend more than half the day seated, rather than standing or moving about. So a panel of British public health officials established guidelines for office workers, who spend 65-75% of their time sitting.

Two hours per day is a good start.

For office workers, and many of those who work at home as well, the only choices are do some work standing up or to take breaks from sitting and walk around — or some combination of the two.

While the panel leaves it to employers to figure out the exact mechanics of how to do this, there's really no reason why employees can't take the initiative themselves. A simple standing desk can be put together for under $35.00.

Standing desks and treadmill desks are two popular options that allow people to stand (and even walk) while doing office work. The panel recommends sit-stand desks, adjustable desks that allow you to work both standing and sitting.

The goal is for workers to spend four hours a day out of their chairs, but the panel cautions against trying to do too much at once. You wouldn't shift a car from neutral straight into third gear. Two hours per day is a good start.

Not Everyone Sits Too Much, But for Those Who Do...

Many workers, including nurses, teachers, retail workers and factory workers, are on their feet and moving for considerably more than four hours a day, so it shouldn't be a physical or mental strain for office workers to eventually do the same.

Many workers, including nurses, teachers, retail workers and factory workers, are on their feet and moving for considerably more than four hours a day.

Public Health England, an agency in the UK's Department of Health, and Active Working CIC, a UK community interest group, developed guidelines for employers that would cut down the amount of time that office workers spend sitting. Its five core recommendations for workers whose jobs are predominantly desk-based are:

  • Aim for at least 2 hours/day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours to start. Eventually your goal is 4 hours/day on your feet and off your seat.

  • Break up work done seated with standing-based work and vice versa. Sit-stand adjustable desk stations are highly recommended.

  • Avoid standing still for prolonged periods. It is the same as for sitting too long in the same position — prolonged static standing postures should be avoided. Movement does need to be checked and corrected on a regular basis especially in the presence of any musculoskeletal sensations. Occupational standing and walking are not linked to low back and neck pain, and can provide relief.

  • Expect some fatigue.Think of a shift to standing at work as the beginning of training: Those new to standing at work could expect to feel some fatigue as part of the process of adjusting to standing. The team recommends that if you feel tired or sore and it isn't eased by changing your posture or walking for a few minutes, then take a rest, including sitting, with a posture that relieves the sensations. If your discomfort persists, speak with your doctor or a physical therapist.

  • Employers should promote health goals among their staff. Let workers know the benefits of improved nutrition, reducing alcohol, smoking and stress, and that prolonged sitting, both at work and at home time, can significantly increase one’s risk of cardiometabolic diseases and premature mortality.

  • The study appears in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and is freely available.

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