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article imageSitting down is very bad for you, says new Australian study

By Paul Wallis     Mar 3, 2010 in Lifestyle
A new Australian study by Melbourne based Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in conjunction with health insurer Medibank Private has alarming findings about the simple act of sitting down: It’s dangerous, particularly at work and watching TV.
The study was conducted by Dr. David Dunstan, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and professor and Head of the Physical Activity Laboratory in the Division of Metabolism and Obesity at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia.
The study was published in the American Heart Association rapid access journal report in January this year, but it’s now getting major coverage as an extremely important study. The theory of sedentary lifestyle being bad for you isn’t new, but this study is the first of its kind.
The findings are truly scary. This is a quote from the AHA synopsis kindly forwarded to me by Baker IDI’s media contact, Ms. Christina Hickey:
Australian researchers tracked the lifestyle habits of 8,800 adults and found that each hour spent in front of the television daily was associated with:
· an 11 percent increased risk of death from all causes,
· a 9 percent increased risk of cancer death; and
· an 18 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related death.
Compared with people who watched less than two hours of television daily, those who watched more than four hours a day had a 46 percent higher risk of death from all causes and an 80 percent increased risk for CVD-related death. This association held regardless of other independent and common cardiovascular disease risk factors, including smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, unhealthy diet, excessive waist circumference, and leisure-time exercises.
If that sounds like a short synopsis of your day, the report becomes tougher reading as it continues. A sedentary lifestyle is defined as inactivity and lack of exercise, but it extends to “prolonged sitting” at work, too. The combination of what are effectively two sedentary lifestyles is worse.
This “holistic-environmental” type of ergonomics as a subjective measure hasn’t really been on the radar of the employment market, and there are serious potential legal ramifications for ergonomically-acquired medical conditions, like there were for smoking, etc.
Posture is a primary medical condition, the minute it’s compromised. Humans have only recently started spending more time sitting down than standing up, and the Baker IDI study has highlighted some positively gruesome effects.
Inactivity, generally, isn’t good for people, either. It’s a well-noted constant issue for bed-bound patients and invalids, contributing to depression, as well as a range of metabolic and other functions necessary for good health.
Office, retail and call center hours when measured showed an alarming amount of time in the sitting position. Sedentary time, as measured by an accelerometer, is actually worse at work than on non-work days. A non work day in these categories averages about 8-9 hours of sedentary non-activity. A work day in each category is never less than 10.
Most people also had a seriously inaccurate idea of their activities as well as their inactivities, considering themselves more active than the objective findings by up to 25% in the case of office workers and retail staff. Subjects also under-reported their sedentary time by an hour or so, particularly on non-work days.
Meaning in each of these occupations, (which are a very large slice of the employment market combined) you can spend 10 hours doing yourself some real damage. Add these hours to the effects listed above, and we’re talking about a potentially deadly work environment, guaranteed to cause problems.
Prolonged sitting also helps give you an inspiring, effervescent selection of aches and pains, and piles. If you’re sitting, stop doing it when you can. Getting up and moving around between jobs also helps you clear your head. Somebody also recently discovered that men in particular think better when walking around. Apparently if you're not moving and acting like you're in a coma, you start thinking.
The question is what to do about it. The Sydney Morning Herald has a piece on some options, including a desk treadmill, and a journalist writing the article standing up. Having read the study materials and related data, it’s not hard to see why.
The current response in the workplace, and it’s not exactly widespread, is that the modern-minded employers like Google are adopting a much more flexible working environment. The “open plan” is now an environmental option, even including building designs, allowing staff to move around, use stairs, and not get buried alive in the workstation feed trough effect.
One of Australia’s more advanced employers, Macquarie Bank, has introduced a plan like this in its Shelley Street office in Sydney, which includes stand up desks, and a far more mobile working space for their 3000 employees. These poor souls also have fresh air from Sydney harbor, and a built in café according to a staffer I spoke to today. Heart rending, isn't it?
Features of this approach include, according to the Mac Bank fact sheet I was sent:
· Shelley Street achieved a Six Star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia for its design (base building)
· Shelley Street is home to approximately 3000 Macquarie people spanning 10 levels
· In embracing Activity Based Working, Macquarie’s Banking and Financial Services Group achieved a 78 % reduction in storage capacity, from approximately 5km to 1.1km
· People embracing Activity Based Working currently work from laptops, which demonstrate a reduced power consumption of approximately 80 % in comparison to PCs, saving around 800 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
· A focus on Paper Independence has supported people in Shelley Street achieving a reduction in printing volumes of more than 50%. This saves approximately 8.6 million sheets or 42 tonnes of paper each year, which is the equivalent of saving 1000 trees each year
Bluntly: Civilization has arrived in the workplace. This data reads like an Occupational Health and Safety manual best practice scenario.
The fact is that the Industrial Revolution and the 19th century are over. People do not respond well to having their anatomies “edited” by office furniture and ridiculous, primitive work environments. This is the current equivalent of the pit ponies and chimney sweeps of the 19th century. If you want to cut absenteeism, stress, and serious medical situations, this is how.
Dr. Dunstan and his team at Baker IDI have done a great job of beginning the prevention of a global generation of workplace-induced cripples. Mac Bank have proved that one of the world’s leading employers knows how to solve the problems. Employers, kindly take the hint, not the lawsuits. Reality is expensive, and this is where you get your workplace discounts.
(Even if they didn’t want a journalist….)
Readers please note: It’s a bit hard to go out and get a new spine or metabolism if you need one. Exercise, walk, play a sport, whatever, but don’t allow yourself to be killed by your furniture.
More about Baker idi, Ergonomics environment, David dunstan
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