Modern life, work, and technological advances mean that many of us spend a large amount of time being sedentary every day – in fact, it is thought that the average person spends up to 12 hours a day sitting down. However, the human body is designed to move, not to be sedentary, and such physical inactivity can have very real consequences for us, such as sitting disease.
What is sitting disease?
Sitting disease is a term used to describe the ill-effects of an overly-sedentary lifestyle. Excessive sitting has been linked to a host of health conditions, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and cholesterol, as well as to a greater risk of death, compared to those who do not spend that long sitting down.
The link between exercise and sitting disease
Unfortunately for most of us, it is thought that exercise does not compensate for excessive sitting. This means that, even if we get the recommended amount of physical activity, we can still suffer from sitting-related health issues, if we spend too much time being sedentary. This therefore presents employers and organisations with a difficult challenge, in terms of addressing this issue.
Sitting disease has real implications for organisations – it is in the best interests of employers to target physical inactivity in the workplace, as the ill health effects of employees’ excessive sitting can lead to reduced productivity and huge financial costs.
What can be done?
There are a lot of individual choices that people can make, to increase the amount of time they spend standing or moving – such as exercising when watching TV or when talking on the phone. There are also steps that organisations can take, in order to encourage people to get moving more in the workplace:
Providing education: this could include educating employees to recognise the warning signs of sitting disease (such as slouching, back pain, weight gain, and lack of energy and focus), as well as educating them on the health risks associated with excessive sitting and the potential benefits associated with more activity throughout the workday (such as weight loss and increased productivity)
Encourage physical activity in the workplace: this can be done by facilitating walking meetings, lunchtime walks or exercise classes, and, most importantly, regular movement throughout the day – employees can be encouraged to utilise calendar reminders and phone apps to stimulate them to move around for one to three minutes every half hour. Gentle exercises, such as leg raises, glute squeezes, and wall sits, can also be incorporated into the workday
Invest in products: organisations can provide products to encourage less sitting in the workplace, such as standing desks, stability balls, and pedometers
Make it fun: inactivity can be tackled in creative and fun ways, which will make employees more likely to engage. Examples include prizes for those who have taken the most steps that week/month or organising special or unusual exercise classes every few weeks.
Guest Author, Jennifer Fennell, Counseling Psychologist