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Home / Health & Science

In that office comfort, you are sitting on a time bomb

Health & ScienceBy Joy Wanja Muraya | Sat,Jun 27 2015 00:00:00 UTC | 4 min read

You could be sitting on a time bomb, literally.

And did you know sitting could be the new smoking?

As one of the most frequently asked questions in the last couple of years, lifestyle experts are now challenging unhealthy habits picked up at the competitive workplaces that demand long periods of sitting worshiping the clock on the wall, in a rush to meet deadlines.

Scientists advise that more activity at work can have great effect on your health and this can be changed by taking a few walks at your workplace.

In the British Journal of Sports Medicine last week, researchers advised that workers should spend at least four hours a day standing and doing light activity.

And whether you spend your day sat at a computer screen or a TV screen (or both), chances are that you are raising your risk of type two diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, which are higher than a decade ago.

Titled, ‘The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity’, the scientists discourage extended sitting periods at the workplace, saying that a stroll or walk around the office is effective in maintaining good posture.

“For those occupations which are predominantly desk based, workers should aim to initially progress towards accumulating two hours per day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of four hours per day,” reads excerpts of the paper published a fortnight ago.

Sports scientist Vincent Onywera acknowledges the prime role of regular exercise within blocks of workload in the office, warning that prolonged sitting is bad for your health, regardless of how much exercise is done.

“Excessive sitting has been linked with being overweight and obese, type two diabetes, some types of cancer, and premature death,” said Dr Onywera, a senior lecturer at Kenyatta University in the Department of Recreation Management and Exercise Science.

Prolonged sitting is also thought to slow metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat, Onywera says.

He advises that one should break up long periods of sitting time with shorter bouts of activity for just one to two minutes. It is further recommended that one should take an active break from sitting every 30 minutes if possible. Dr Stacy Clemes, a human biology lecturer at Loughborough University agrees with Onywera that sitting for long periods is quite common among adults. She estimates that on weekdays, workers are seated 60 per cent of the time and even on weekends people still sit for eight hours.

They also underscore the importance of combined adoption of other healthy lifestyle habits like improved nutrition, reducing alcohol intake, smoking and stress.

Adults aged between 16 and 64 years should sit down less throughout the day whether its at work, when traveling and when at home, Onywera says.

Set reminder

Some of the tips to reduce sitting time that one could adopt include standing on the train or bus, taking the stairs as opposed to escalator or lifts, setting a reminder to get up every 30 minutes for a short walk and also alternating working when seated with standing.

Other strategies include standing or walking around when having a cellphone conversation, walking to a co-worker’s desk instead of writing an email or calling through intercom and also swapping viewing of television for more active tasks or hobbies like housework or playing an outdoor game. And if you already have a gym regimen, you are also expected to exercise at the workplace.

“If someone goes to the gym or walks for 30 to 45 minutes a day, but sits down the rest of the time, then they are still described as having a ‘sedentary lifestyle’. All-day movement is now seen as being just as important for the maintenance of good health as traditional exercise. I call this habitual physical activity rather than planned exercise,” says Prof Stuart Biddle of Victoria University, Australia.

The researchers have a word for the employers too.

“Companies should also promote among their staff that prolonged sitting, aggregated from work and in leisure time, may significantly and independently increase the risk of cardiometabolic diseases and premature mortality,” says the lead researcher.

Onywera challenges employers to make provisions for worktops that can allow one to work while standing.

The risk of mental illnesses also increases with prolonged periods of inactivity with research showing that the possibility of anxiety and depression is significantly higher in those who sit more while increased activity shows better subjective mental health and vitality.

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