Why your office chair is bad for your health

Sedentary behaviour and your health

It might seem strange to hear the average working week in Australia has reduced by 2 hours per week however, that doesn’t mean people are working less, it purely represents a shift from productivity to outcome based performance measurements. Tied together with the development of new technologies and the introduction of flexible working options including working from home, it means workers days are stretched longer, they are available more of the time and are working more hours they don’t register. Ultimately this leads to more sedentary behaviour at work.

Interestingly, the first occupational study looking at health outcomes in those who were physical active at work versus those who weren’t was published way back in 1951. The Morris paper looked at the rates of coronary heart disease (CHD) in bus drivers compared to ticket conductors and it was no surprise to see bus drivers had a higher incident of CHD compared to ticket conductors. To confirm these findings Morris and Crawford then compared the risk of heart attacks between postmen and government clerks and found a similar result; government clerks more often suffered heart attacks than postmen.

Fast-foward to 2019 where we now know that sedentary behaviour is associated with higher blood pressure, total cholesterol and poor cognition and academic performance. It is also strongly associated with all cause mortality, fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome along with being moderately associated with ovarian, colon and endometrial cancer.

Time to get moving!

As Morris showed in his studies, workers who were more active had lower incidents of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and this rings true today. In 2018 the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report highlighted the importance of physical activity which is linked to improved sleep, cognition, minimizing weight gain, reduced risks of depression, anxiety, dementia, colon, breast, bladder, endometrial, oesophagus, stomach, kidney and lung cancer as well as reduced risks of chronic preventable diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There is also low grade evidence indicating sit to stand desk (ie. being more active) reduces low back pain in office workers.

Breaking up sedentary behaviour doesn’t need to be difficult, it might involve introducing a sit to stand desk to help modulate posture throughout the day, getting up from the desk and walking around the office at regular intervals, it could include exercising during the lunch break and for the extremely busy people think about replacing your car commute to work with a ride or run. Whatever it is you chose to break up your sedentary behaviour with, it is important that you are reaching the minimum guidelines for physical activity – 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week.