“Sitting is the new smoking”
The evidence was already there back in 2009: a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to health. One of the larger studies in this field, conducted in Australia (“The 45 and Up Study”), found that each additional hour of sitting time per day was associated with a 9% increase in all-cause mortality. In addition to an elevated mortality risk, prolonged sitting is associated with a greater likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes or certain cancers. Lack of exercise is also linked to sluggish metabolism, which leads to excess body weight – a problem already affecting 60% of adult Poles.
The impacts of sedentary work need to be looked at from a broader perspective than back pain. There’s no doubt that poor workstation positioning leads to pain in the cervical or lumbar spine. While an appropriate set-up of the monitor and desk space together with an ergonomic chair ease pressure off the spine, they don’t eliminate the underlying problem – lack of movement – and its adverse effects on other parts of the body.
An ergonomic workstation is one that promotes movement over passive sitting. Just think: which type of chair makes employees move more at work: an ‘ergonomic’ chair that supports the body at every angle or a wooden stool so uncomfortable that it requires frequent changes of body position?
Frequent body position changes are precisely the crux of the matter because sitting – as ‘ergonomic’ as it may be – still remains sitting, which is a passive posture. Frequent changes in body position like in yoga class – fidgeting in the chair, shifting body weight, getting up and working at a standing desk for a while, and then returning to sitting, but on an unstable surface (such as a fitness ball) – these seemingly inconspicuous activities provide employees doing their job at a computer with opportunities to move around. The body quickly gets used to such ‘good moves’, and our efforts are rewarded with improved well-being. A perfect complement to these office practices is the yoga course for beginners available in the MultiLife package. Participants learn the basic asanas and improve their body awareness.
Make sure to breathe properly
Breathing is important not only during yoga but in every single second of our lives. Adequate delivery of oxygen to all body cells through breathing is crucial for efficient functioning both at work and in our free time. Unfortunately, we hardly ever give a single thought to harnessing the power of breathing. The course in healthy breathing – one of MultiLife’s original expert courses – will help you and your employees unleash the full potential of breath. By optimizing your breathing, you can improve the efficiency of your movements and enhance your stress-coping abilities.
Sitting or standing?
A frequently mentioned alternative to a sedentary work routine is a standing desk. While working at a standing desk does help to ease the strain on lumbar spine, spending eight hours in this position still makes itself felt. Just ask, for example, production or warehouse staff. Consequently, sit-stand desks are the best solution, as they can be modified at will to accommodate both sitting and standing, instead of staying fixed in one position.
Steps, steps, steps
The World Health Organization recommends walking a minimum of 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy and fit. Unsurprisingly, office workers find this to be a real challenge. Hence, they should be encouraged to look for opportunities to move around on foot before, during, and after work. For example, they may walk a greater distance to the bus stop, take the stairs to the office or make themselves a cup of coffee in the staff kitchen on another floor. As long as it’s consistent with the organizational culture, you can also, at least on a partial basis, incorporate ‘walking meetings’ or, at a minimum, ‘walking calls’ into the office routine. Such meetings or phone calls involve mostly speaking, as opposed to intensive desk work. Consequently, they can be easily conducted while walking – or at least standing – instead of sitting.
Any change in work habits, even a small tweak, may contribute to improving the fitness and well-being of the workforce. Introducing changes is bound to be easier after a consultation with a personal trainer, who can help you plan your physical activity throughout the day. This service is also available in MultiLife.
Work with what you’ve got
Intense periods at work correlate with reduced physical activity during the day. When your employees’ attention needs to be focused elsewhere, it’s hard to expect them to concentrate on building healthy habits. If this happens, employees should be provided with extra incentives to exercise in their free time. After all, there is no shortage of evidence linking physical activity and good work performance.
Sport is good for brain health by:
- enhancing thinking skills,
- improving concentration,
- strengthening resilience,
- and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
All of these benefits improve the quality and pace of work: having a fit brain contributes to better decision-making and increased productivity. In addition, physically fit employees are less likely to fall ill, so exercise helps reduce the number of sick leave hours.
There’re plenty of ways to stay physically active during free time, for example: gym workouts, running, cycling, yoga practice, home training with the YES2MOVE platform or swimming.
But one thing is for sure: employees should be supported in their efforts to get an appropriate amount of physical activity both during and outside working hours. Ideally, everyone should be able to choose an activity that is fun and engaging. It’ll then be easier to pursue it even during an extremely busy time at work.
- 45 and Up Study Collaborators; Banks E, Redman S, Jorm L, Armstrong B, Bauman A, Beard J, Beral V, Byles J, Corbett S, Cumming R, Harris M, Sitas F, Smith W, Taylor L, Wutzke S, Lujic S. Cohort profile: the 45 and up study. Int J Epidemiol. 2008 Oct;37(5):941-7.
- Shen D, Mao W, Liu T, Lin Q, Lu X, Wang Q, Lin F, Ekelund U, Wijndaele K. Sedentary behavior and incident cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. PLoS One. 2014 Aug 25;9(8):e105709.
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- Smith PJ, Blumenthal JA, Hoffman BM, Cooper H, Strauman TA, Welsh-Bohmer K, Browndyke JN, Sherwood A. Aerobic exercise and neurocognitive performance: a meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials. Psychosom Med. 2010 Apr;72(3):239-52. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181d14633. Epub 2010 Mar 11.
- Roig M, Nordbrandt S, Geertsen SS, Nielsen JB. The effects of cardiovascular exercise on human memory: a review with meta-analysis. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Sep;37(8):1645-66.