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The Heart of Matter

During the 1950s research carried out into the health of bus drivers and conductors found that bus drivers were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as bus conductors. Our sedentary lifestyles haven’t improved over the last 60 years and if anything they’ve become worse.

In 2011 a further study showed that on average UK adults spend 50-60% of their day in sedentary pursuits. Quite apart from the likelihood of an increase in weight, sitting down for too long it can cause higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and even increase the risk of type two diabetes. The study’s findings reported that the health of those spending the longest time spent sitting down was associated with the following ill health conditions.

  • 112% increase in risk of diabetes.
  • 90% increase in death due to cardiovascular events.147% increase in cardiovascular events.
  • 49% increase in death due to any cause.

The human race wasn’t designed to sit behind a desk all day. Our minds may have developed rapidly but it seems our bodies have not been able to adapt.

Back in 2014 the Department of Health launched its Stand More at Work project. A team of researchers at Loughborough University hope to provide evidence and radically help us rethink how we work and live. This is a three year study which looks at the work patterns of 240 support works, 120 of them working as the control group. They will look at the benefits of sit-stand desks. The studies aim is to prove that standing for longer periods of time makes employees feel more energised and better psychologically.

In June Public Health England and Active Working CIC published a statement in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which set out to provide guidelines for employers on how to promote the avoidance of prolonged periods of sedentary work.

The problem we have is there isn’t very much evidence surrounding this. There have been global research studies, but no concrete scientific evidence has been found to prove these theories.

Both Kirsty and Lauren wear fitness watches which monitor their movement and how many steps they do each day. It is now common for you to hear beeping from both sides of the office, with their watches telling them that they need to get up and move around. The NHS recommends that you walk at least 10,000 steps a day. That’s higher than you might expect. Even with active lifestyles Kirsty and Lauren still don’t reach that goal. Their average this week is around 5,750 steps. Since my natural tendencies are to zoom round like a spaniel on speed I don’t really need to be reminded to get up and move. I struggle to sit still for any length of time and am more likely to be wandering round doing my calls with my headset on than slumped behind a desk. But it’s a still a good idea to monitor the number of steps to get the true picture.

Needless to say, as well as looking out for our own health, its good business to encourage our employees to get a bit more active.

Aim to stand/walk for at least two hours a day. This can include walking round the office or. Walk during your lunch break. Take calls and read documents standing up. Walk round while waiting for the kettle to boil. Have stand-up meetings; they also tend to focus the minds of those present and you get through the agenda faster.

Consider investing in “sit – stand” adjustable desks are available to help with this.

As an employer you should promote to employees that sitting for prolonged periods of time is not good for their physical and mental state. A friend of mine started doing this some time ago. He reports that once he got used to it, he worked efficiently, lost weight and niggling back pain just disappeared, an unexpected bonus. Sounds like a win-win-win to me.

We can all improve our health by making small changes from sitting to standing and walking. But those small changes will reap big rewards.

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