No time to sit: Keeping active at work is best for your health

Sedentary Work Report coverWhile you may have heard that sitting all day at work may be bad for your health, you may not realise that small and frequent changes from sitting and less time sitting in total can mitigate the potential harm.

Especially prolonged unbroken sitting time is associated with a range of health problems including musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers and premature mortality.

Compounding this, health problems caused by prolonged sitting remain even if you exercise vigorously every day, highlighting that excessive sitting and physical inactivity are separate health hazards.

While an increase in the use of information technology may be responsible for our sedentary behaviour, our transport to and from work, leisure activities and occupation are all contributing factors.

Safe Work Australia’s literature review on sedentary work shows that negative health effects from prolonged sitting are due to insufficient movement and muscle activity, low energy expenditure and a lack of changes in posture.

Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter said sedentary work research shows that workers should aim to substitute sitting with standing or walking when possible.

“Sitting for longer than 30 minutes without a mini-break, and sitting all day at work is likely to be detrimental to health,” said Ms Baxter.

“Early evidence suggests occupational interventions targeting sitting reduction can substantially reduce occupational sitting, at least in office workplaces.”

These interventions include using substitution and breaks to minimise the total time spent sitting and to break up periods of sitting at work.

“In essence, our literature review suggests that employers and workers should aim for small and frequent changes from sitting as much as possible and less time sitting in total,” said Ms Baxter.

Read: Sedentary Work: Evidence on an Emergent Work Health and Safety Issue

Designing good work

Safe Work Australia recently published a handbook on the Principles of Good Work Design. It contains 10 principles that demonstrate how to achieve good design of work and work processes. The principles are all general in nature so they can be applied to any workplace, topic or industry. The handbook is an initiative under the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-22


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Questions should be emailed to info@swa.gov.au.

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