The Sedentary Epidemic – Standing Up For The Desk Warrior

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It is estimated that 80% of the population have some form of desk-based job, spending 60% of their time in a prolonged sitting posture. We are a nation of desk warriors! Hunched over our monitors, slumping in our poor quality desk chairs and tapping away on our poorly placed keyboards, we begin to look like an angry T-Rex, and then wonder how on earth we have developed neck pain!

Slump Posture at desk

The Swedes have the right idea…well-designed furniture, perfectly laid out office space and nobody in Sweden has back pain (this is wholly untrue, it was said for effect and is in no way factually correct!)

We deal with desk warriors all the time at the clinic; whether they refer themselves or employers ask us to go into offices and rectify problems. That’s all well and good and a lot of the time we can help. However, it would seem that we’re tackling the problem of sedentary work all wrong, in that we wait for a problem to occur, instead of preventing it! Traditionally we have a reactionary approach as opposed to a preventative approach.

Plus, we always get the same response…

“But I go to the gym, three times a week… and I walk the dog!”

Well that’s great, but it won’t undo the damage you’re doing by sitting for 8 hours per day. I like dark chocolate digestives…a lot! I also like broccoli.But if I eat chocolate digestives for lunch every day, and have broccoli for dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m still going to get larger around the middle! Our bodies respond to whatever stimuli we expose them to most. So, if we adopt horrible postures for most of the day, we’re going to stress our tissues. This results in pain, even if we do take some regular exercise!

New guidelines have been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (02.06.2015) encouraging office workers to stand for at least two to four hours per day. The whole standing at work thing has actually been big news in the world of ergonomics for some time. I know what you’re thinking… the world of ergonomics sounds insanely dull… WRONG! The world of ergonomics is fascinating; particularly given the fact that all this research is going to help you desk warriors live longer, never mind help your back pain. Inactivity is currently the number one health problem and there is a wealth of scientific evidence that indicates the following problems are likely to affect our sedentary society in the following ways:

  • Musculoskeletal pain (including neck and back pain)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Muscle degeneration
  • Osteoporosis

So, you see, all that sitting is a terrible idea… but that’s not to say you can use this as an acceptable excuse to get out of work!

What can be done to help?

Lots! The big problem is that we’re all maintaining sedentary positions. Sitting isn’t necessarily the enemy; sitting for eight hours per day in bad postures is the enemy. So do something about it!

  • Check your sitting posture and your workspace layout.  A common phrase we hear is ‘I’ve done my DSE self-assessment’. Well in our experience the DSE self-assessment is a poor solution to an ever-worsening problem. There’s no way you can accurately assess your own posture and position at work. It would make much more sense for colleagues to team up and assess each other. Better still, employers should be accessing professional help to advise with regard to workspace set up and equipment provision.
  • Move more! Rearranging the office space to encourage staff to walk is helpful. Walk to the printer, stand up to work, do what you have to do to get out of that chair! A number of companies we work with have started to use empty meeting rooms, or spare space for employees to take light exercise aimed at stretching, mobilising and working on postural muscle control. We also provide onsite yoga, pilates and group exercise classes
  • Height adjustable workstations.  A lot of the companies we work with are installing height adjustable workstations. Desks and chairs that can be easily adjusted into seated, perching and standing positions are a great solution to vary position and prevent the issues faced with long term fixed postures.

A lot of the research is focused on standing, but standing alone is not the answer. It has to be a balance between movement and varying postures. It would not be advisable to stand all day, as it is not advisable to sit all day.

Is it realistic?

It’s as realistic as any employer is willing to make it. Ultimately this comes down to budget, but there are all sorts of changes an employer can implement from zero cost up to thousands of pounds. With companies spending large budgets on products that are aesthetic it may be more appropriate to consider the functionality and how this can impact on the end user.

Giving the flexibility to staff to alter work position costs nothing.

The top and bottom of the matter is that we are facing an epidemic of sedentary workers in this country, which has a drastic effect on both musculoskeletal and general health. The key to improving health is to move more. It is a responsibility of both employers and employees to consider health at work and take all reasonable steps to promote good health at work. Whether we like it or not, work is where we will spend most of our time! So get up out of your chair, stop pretending to be a T-Rex and move a bit more!


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