The workplace is recognised as a priority setting for health promotion by the World Health Organization and the Australian Government. The cost of absenteeism in Australia is estimated at $7 billion each year, yet research shows that workplace health programs resulted in a 25% decrease in sick leave absenteeism, 41% decrease in workers compensation costs, 24% decrease in disability management costs and $5.81 of savings for every $1 invested in employee wellbeing. Further research indicates that employees who spend 2.5 hours per week exercising during work hours attain the same or higher productivity levels than their less physically active colleagues.
Do you know what the dangers of sitting still are and how you can combat these?
The dangers of sitting still at work
Posture at work has long been recognised as a potential occupational hazard but research is now linking high amounts of sedentary time – or prolonged sitting – with premature death, heart disease and diabetes. There is increasing recognition that sedentary time in office-based workplaces also needs to be considered as a potential adverse health risk and is a separate consideration to the lack of physical activity outside work hours.
This follows recent evidence that (as a population health risk) reducing total time spent sitting may be at least as important as increasing participation in physical activity. In fact, 30 minutes of physical activity is as protective an exposure as 10 hours of sitting time is a harmful one. For instance, an employee who meets the minimum recommendations for physical activity (such as brisk walking or cycling for at least 30 minutes, 5 times per week) may not reduce their risk of poor health if they typically sit for prolonged periods of the day.
What can workplaces do to help staff move?
Organisations should focus not just on increasing physical activity levels in the workplace but also on reducing sitting time. It’s not necessarily about working up a sweat, even ‘non-sweaty’ light-intensity activity for 2 minutes every hour can have significant benefits. For example:
- Active meetings — Take informal meetings outside and, where possible make it a walking meeting.
- Active deskwork — Set hourly reminders in your calendar to take a break. Link your reminder to a different Exercise Is Medicine stretch video each hour.
- Active commute— Make your commute to work active. Stand up on the train or get off the bus a stop early and walk the rest of the way.
- Active lunch — Avoid spending your lunch break at your desk. Get up and go for a 15 minute walk with a colleague before or after you eat.
- Active teams — Set a team goal to participate in a local fun run or walk. Check out the PACE calendar to find an event near you.
Stretching at work
Taking the time to stretch throughout the day can have numerous health benefits. Stretching can improve flexibility and is an important activity to warm up or cool down after exercise. Stretching can also be a fun and healthy break from your computer screen during the work day.
Stretch Videos are now available from Exercise is Medicine Australia. Why not configure regular reminders in your calendar, and link to the videos to keep you mobile throughout the day? Try The Banana, The Emu, Reach for the Sky, The Rock, The Twister and The Yes & No today.
This Office Stretch Sheet provides you with 6 simple and effective stretches that you can complete whilst sitting at your work station. The Standing Stretch Sheet is perfect to do before a lunchtime walk, and for those who have standing roles. We also have smaller reference cards for the standing and seated stretches.
We recommend you repeat each stretch twice, and hold each time for 20 seconds.