Office work often means 8 hours plus a day sitting at a desk and the latest findings from scientists shows that office workers should take an hour’s brisk exercise a day to offset the risks of early death that this more sedentary lifestyle can lead to.
Occupational health providers will be one group looking carefully at this new analysis of data from more than a million people is part of a study of physical activity published in the Lancet to coincide with the Olympics.
To look at the impact of activity and inactivity, researchers went back to the authors of 13 existing papers and asked all of them to re-analyse their data.
People were classed depending on how active they were – from the least active who did less than five minutes a day, up to 60-75 minutes a day for the most active.
Researchers then looked at how many people died during the follow-up period – between two and 14 years.
The ill effects of inactivity
Being inactive is known to increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
It has been linked to 5.3 million deaths globally a year – compared with 5.1 million linked to smoking.
The Lancet research says the global cost, for healthcare and lost productivity, is estimated at $67.5bn per year.
Those who sat for eight hours a day, but were physically active, had a much lower risk of premature death compared with people who sat for fewer hours a day, but were not active.
Sitting for a long time as well as being inactive carried the greatest risk.
Watching TV even worse than sitting at a desk
Watching TV was found to be worse than sitting at a desk. Watching TV for more than three hours was associated with an increased risk of premature death for all but the most active.
The researchers suggest this is likely to be because people might snack while they watch, or because they are more likely to watch TV after eating their evening meal which might affect their metabolism.
It could, they say, also be a sign of a more unhealthy lifestyle in general.
Health in the workplace – What employers can do
Employers with desk-working staff can play an important role in promoting physical activity and health in the workplace overall.
The scientists reported in the BBC article quoted, said governments should ensure their policies encouraged physical activity – citing the example of a bus scheme where stops are placed further apart to encourage walking – and employers should make it easier for staff to be active during their working day – such as flexible lunch breaks and the provision of showering facilities.
If your employees are looking after themselves well, they are more likely to meet targets and less likely to take time off due to problems related to sedentary lifestyles.