That’s bad news for the 77% of Australian office workers who sit down for six hours a day, with prolonged inactivity linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, muscular and back issues, deep vein thrombosis, brittle bones, depression and dementia.
According to Shane Bilsborough, former Go For Your Life health campaign ambassador and co-founder of the exercise challenge Stepathlon, office workers may have one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.
“The body of evidence is now overwhelming. Today’s sedentary office environment has a more far-reaching negative health impact than even the direst reports of just a few years ago”, said Bilsborough.
"Sitting for six hours a day at work, as 77% of Australian office workers do, has a direct correlation with long-term disease, reduced productivity and absenteeism.”
He added that in the US, some commentators are predicting that "excessive sitting" could be the basis for future workplace litigation.
The issue with long-term sitting isn’t a new one, said Bilsborough.
“It started in air raid shelters in World War II. People were sitting in concrete rooms for long periods of time and they noticed that there was an elevation in heart attacks. This is nothing to do with weight, if blood can’t get from the bottom of your body to your heart, it becomes viscous and clogs. This isn’t something sudden, it’s been around for a long time.”
Because health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol are invisible, people have an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude, he added.
“Sitting seems almost ridiculous – how can sitting impact on my health? For 84,000 generations, human beings have been on the move. When we move, even when we stand, we switch on our genes. When we’re sitting, we switch them off.”
HR tips for creating a healthier office
“Education is one of the most important things,” said Bilsborough. “We’ve almost gone backwards in a sense. We went through a revolution to get fit and now we’ve sort of forgotten that it’s not just about being fit, it’s about being on your feet as much as possible.”
Offer standing workstations
These already exist in some Australian offices and US scientist Marc Hamilton has gone so far as to suggest a treadmill workstation, where employees can walk and work.
Have a walking meeting
“If you want to catch up with someone, go for a walk. It’s about looking for opportunities throughout the course of the day where you can move,” said Bilsborough.
“If you have a mobile and you get a phone call, get up and walk or even stand.”
Encourage employees to look for standing opportunities
“Look for opportunities to go and talk to someone rather than sending an email. Walk to the photocopier that’s farther away. My mind boggles when I hear of some workplaces where it’s almost frowned upon to take a lunch break,” Bilsborough said.
“Make sure you get up during your lunch break and move. If you’re on a plane for six hours, you’re getting up and moving your legs and walking around. Why wouldn’t you do the same at your desk?”
Experts are describing sitting down all day as “the new smoking” in terms of ill-health, while the World Health Organisation has identified physical inactivity as the fourth biggest killer globally, ahead of obesity.