Keeping active at work is best for your health

By
Updated: March 18, 2016

With one half of workers across a number of industries and occupations reporting that they are sitting often or for all of the time they are at work, Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter has called on employers and workers to aim to reduce their time sitting at work.

Ms Baxter’s call follows the release of a literature review commissioned by Safe Work Australia to examine the most recent evidence from Australia and overseas on sedentary work, its likely consequences and potential control options.

Undertaken by a team of experts from Curtin University, the review shows that prolonged unbroken sitting time is associated with a range of health problems including musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers and premature mortality.

Compounding this, health problems caused by prolonged sitting remain even if you exercise vigorously every day, highlighting that excessive sitting and physical inactivity are separate health hazards.

The report shows that negative health effects from prolonged sitting are due to insufficient movement and muscle activity, low energy expenditure and a lack of changes in posture.

Ms Baxter said the research shows that workers should aim to substitute sitting with standing or walking when possible.

“Sitting for longer than 30 minutes without a mini-break, and sitting all day at work is likely to be detrimental to health,” said Ms Baxter.

“Early evidence suggests occupational interventions targeting sitting reduction can substantially reduce occupational sitting, at least in office workplaces.”

These interventions include using substitution and breaks to minimise the total time spent sitting, noted Professor Leon Straker from Curtin University’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science.

“For some jobs there are simple ways to prevent prolonged occupational sitting, such as standing to read a document, having a standing or walking meeting, standing while talking on the phone, or walking to deliver a message to a colleague rather than emailing,” Professor Straker said.

The literature review, Sedentary Work: Evidence on an Emergent Work Health and Safety Issue, is available on the Safe Work Australia website.