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The sitting disease - The dangers of inactivity at work

By Lara Wood
Rehabilitation Consultant

The human body is designed for movement and should alternate between sitting, standing and activities (e.g. walking). Employees who need to spend long periods of time in a seated position are at risk of injury and more prone to a variety of health problems. Research over the last several years has identified the true effects that sedentary work has had on our bodies. 

What are the associated health problems?

Sedentary behaviour has been shown to be more damaging than smoking, poor diet, or lack of vigorous exercise.  

Those who sit for long periods of time are at a higher risk of chronic disease, chronic injury and even pre-mature death. Prolonged sitting is thought to slow the metabolism and affect the way the body controls sugar levels, blood pressure and the breakdown of fat. The effects of prolonged stretches of immobility can still be experienced by those who participate in moderate to rigorous exercise outside of their inactive periods. 

The most common injuries occur in the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments, affecting the neck and lower back. Prolonged sitting reduces body movement, making muscles more likely to pull, cramp or strain when stretched suddenly. It causes fatigue in the back and neck muscles as it  slows the blood supply. It also puts tension on the spine, especially in the lower back or neck, which causes a steady compression on spinal discs that can hinder their nutrition and contribute to their premature degeneration.

What are the solutions?

Unlike unhealthy behaviours such as smoking or poor diet, prolonged sitting is a condition of the work place, not an individual lifestyle choice. 

Many businesses have wellness programmes in place to encourage employees to get more active, but very few address the impact of prolonged sitting. 

To help address this employers should:

  • promote and support standing in team meetings, and during individual desk time
  • consider how to introduce job task variation
  • provide height adjustable desks to allow employees to alternate between sitting and standing
  • supply cordless headsets to allow call handlers to stand and move around their workstation
  • encourage workers to eat away from their desks
  • locate printers/photocopiers /water coolers away from desks

Employees should:

  • stand when on the phone or in meetings
  • use the stairs instead of the lift
  • eat lunch away from their desk
  • take a break away from their computer every 30 minutes and walk to a colleague’s desk rather than phoning or emailing

By acknowledging the negative impact of sedentary work, raising awareness among employees of what they can do to counteract it and supporting measures to help them do so, companies will benefit from a healthier work environment with better productivity levels and reduced employee absence costs.

Your contact

Your contact

Lara Broadwell

Lara Broadwell

Senior Rehabilitation Consultant

Tel: +44 (113) 2906289