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Health and Safety Law

Compliance - guidance - training

26 SEP 2016

The Risks of Sedentary Work

The Risks of Sedentary Work

A recently published report has shed new light on the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle and on how those risks can be reduced. Published in The Lancet, the report Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women is a significant contribution to this increasingly important issue.

For some years there has been a growing body of evidence demonstrating the links between a sedentary lifestyle and poor health and mortality. Health problems associated with physical inactivity include an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. In the UK and in many other countries the number of people employed in low-activity occupations has increased substantially over recent decades, in turn increasing the likelihood of people adopting a largely sedentary lifestyle.

Previous research has considered the influence of sedentary work on a person’s overall sedentary lifestyle and thus the risk involved. For example, research undertaken by Parry and Straker, published in 2013, found that office work contributes substantially to overall sedentary exposure, and that while such work is traditionally considered low-risk, it may increase the risk of mortality and certain cardiometabolic disorders due to overall accumulated sedentary time and especially sedentary time at work. The authors suggested that work-based interventions should target reducing total sedentary time and also emphasise the importance of interrupting sedentary time and provide an opportunity to engage in light intensity activity.

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The more recent Lancet research involved a study of over one million adults, the key aim being to examine how much physical activity is needed to reduce or eliminate the risk of death arising from prolonged sitting time. The findings were:

  • People who sit for at least eight hours a day but are physically active are at less risk of death than those who spend less time seated but are not physically active.

  • The increased risk of death for people who sit for at least eight hours a day is eliminated where they undertake a minimum of one hour of moderately intensive physical activity per day. Examples of moderate physical activity include brisk walking and cycling for pleasure.

  • Although an hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, any such activity is beneficial and will reduce risks.

The findings of this research, which highlight clearly the benefits of physical activity, should be of interest to self-employed workers and employers of workers who spend many hours during their working say seated, as well as being of relevance to future public health policy. As well as the benefits of taking exercise at lunchtimes or in the evenings, the established benefits of short, regular breaks from workstations are further emphasised via this research.