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Ways to Stay Active at Work and Home - Avoid Inactivity Risks to Health

Updated on November 15, 2016
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Dr John applies his Biochemistry & Physiology research background (PhD) to develop reviews of exercises, training, run, walk, workouts, gym

Inactivity is an insidious, silent and lurking killer, perhaps similar to the risks of smoking or obesity.

► The World Health Organisation lists the humble ‘physical inactivity’ as the fourth largest killer of adults in the world.

► It is responsible for about 10% of premature deaths in the Western world.

► A sedentary lifestyle, worsened by being inactive sitting behind a desk or working on a computer for 8-10 hours a day increases the risk of depression, obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart attack and for developing a number of chronic diseases.

► It also diminished the quality of life as the inactive are likely to be more depressed and less likely to be engaged in activities beyond work, or gazing at a computer screen, or watching a video or TV monitor.

Recent research has shown that remaining inactive and sitting down continuously without a break, even for several hours a day is harmful. This applies even for people who get regular exercise when not working.

Researchers who monitored more than 50,000 middle-aged women for a total period of six years concluded that for every session of two hours watching television increased their rate of becoming obese by about 20% and of developing diabetes by about 15%.

Use the Stairs at Work rather than the lift
Use the Stairs at Work rather than the lift | Source
Office Games can be Fun!
Office Games can be Fun! | Source
Time to turn that office chair into a workout bench. Perhaps not to this extreme but a couple of stretch bands can do wonders.
Time to turn that office chair into a workout bench. Perhaps not to this extreme but a couple of stretch bands can do wonders. | Source
You can organise your desk and workspace to stay more active
You can organise your desk and workspace to stay more active | Source
Portable  under-desk cycle machines are widely available
Portable under-desk cycle machines are widely available | Source

Health Risks of Inactivity at Work

The health risk of prolonged sitting time itself, needs to be separated from the overall amount of activity on a daily basis. considered separately to the lack of physical activity outside work hours.

For example, a person may go for a 30 minute jog or run after work every day, but may spend 4 or 5 hours sitting at a desk at work during the day and another 4 hours in front of a computer screen or TV every night. Does this really matter?

Several long term research studies have shown that adults who spend less time throughout the day, sitting for more than 2 hours at a time, have a lower risk of death, from cardiovascular disease, obesity and other ailments.

The study also showed that the amount of time spent sitting was not correlated to the amount of general activity.

► That is, the ‘couch potatoes’ were evenly spread amongst those that exercised regularly at other time, and those that were inactive all the time.

► The amount of time spent sitting was positively correlated with increased rates of mortality for both men and women.

► The correlation was stronger for women than men.

► Men who spent more than 6 hours sitting down had an 18% higher risk of mortality than those who only spent 2 hours or less sitting down.

► For women the increase in mortality rates was about 37%.

► This applied whether or not the people were generally active at other times.

Increase in Mortality Risk with Increase in Amount of Time Spent Sitting Down

Time Spent Sitting
Relative Risk for Women
Relative Risk for Men
0-2 hours
3-5 hours
more than 6 hours

Another Australian Study showed similar results with a correlation between hours spent sitting and increased risk of mortality.

The study used mortality data and questionnaire information for 220,000 individual Australian.

► The correlation between sitting duration and all-cause mortality was consistent for both men and women, age groups, body mass index.

► Prolonged sitting was found to be a mortality risk factor that was independent of the amount of physical activity undertaken.

► This confirmed the findings of the previous study. The results are summarized below.

An Australian Study showed that prolonged periods of inactivity, sitting down. increased the risk of all cause mortality in adults
An Australian Study showed that prolonged periods of inactivity, sitting down. increased the risk of all cause mortality in adults | Source

How to Sit Down for Shorter Periods of Time

The research data provides clear evidence that sitting down for more than about an hour at a time is detrimental for your health. So what can you do about it.

The answer is to identify the time when you sit down and break them into shorter periods of 30 minutes or so with various activities. This is a very simple concept. Examine when are the periods during the day you spend sitting down. The example below provides and example with the long sirring down periods highlighted:

  • Brisk walk 30 minutes
  • Drive to work in the car 60 minutes (Sitting)
  • Work on computer for 4 hours (Sitting)
  • Eat Lunch for 45 minutes (Sitting)
  • Work on the computer 4 hours in the afternoon (Sitting)
  • Drive home 60 minutes (Sitting)
  • Training in the gym or running 30 minutes
  • Eat Dinner 30 minutes (Sitting)
  • Watch TV, a Video or work on the computer for 4 hours (Sitting)

It is clear that action is needed at home, at work and while traveling to work. Driving a car is probably not as bad as sitting at a desk, and there is probably not a lot your can do about sitting down while driving.

However the other long period of sitting down can all be broken down into shorter periods by adding various breaks deliberately or by adopting various tactics to generate these breaks.

10 Tips for Reducing Inactivity and Sitting Down for Long Periods at Work, When Traveling and at Home

At Home

  1. Get off the couch, do some exercises or walk around the house during commercial breaks.
  2. Do household chores, or various exercise routines, while watching television.
  3. Cut down the hours spent watch television
  4. Install an under the desk exercise unit
  5. Walk to the local store
  6. Use an alarm to remind you to take a break from the computer every 30 minutes
  7. Stand when reading the morning newspaper
  8. Stand while eating breakfast
  9. Wash your car by hand rather than using a drive-through car wash.
  10. Move around the house when checking text messages and email on your mobile phone.

10 Tips for being Active at Work and Avoiding Sirring Down too long

  1. Stand up and routinely take a break from your computer every 30 minutes. There are many fabulous books and articles than outline various exercise routines you can use in the office.
  2. Take breaks during long meetings. They will be more productive that way
  3. Stand up to greet a visitor to your workspace and walk to a meeting room
  4. Always use the stairs, not the lift
  5. Stand up to take phone calls. You will find it is less distracting and helps you focus better
  6. Walk to a colleagues desk and discuss things in person with people rather than phoning or emailing.
  7. Drink more water. This works two ways as you will need to go to thekitchen or watercooler more often, and have more toilet breaks, which shortens your sitting time. Drinking more water is also good for your health.
  8. Use a height-adjustable desk and try working standing up rather than sitting down.
  9. Use a ball as a chair and use under-desk exercise equipment and chairs designed for exercising.
  10. Encourage you work mates to take regular breaks as well and devise various way of exercising together such as one of the many 60 second workouts.

10 Tips to Reduce Inactivity and Longer Periods Sitting down while Traveling

  1. Try to leave your car at home and take public transport or cycle to work.
  2. Walk to and from bus or train stops and stations
  3. Walk or cycle for at least part of the way to work
  4. Plan regular breaks during long car trips
  5. Park your car a greater distance away from your destination, so you can walk the rest of the way
  6. Stand on public transport rather than sitting down, especially for long trips.
  7. Get off or onto public transport one stop or station earlier than your usual stop so you can walk the rest of the way.
  8. Do some leg flexes and stretching while you are sitting down on the train or bus.
  9. Try to walk to meetings, rather than getting a taxi.
  10. Plan regular scenic walks to break up long car journeys.

© 2013 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • john000 profile image

    John R Wilsdon 3 years ago from Superior, Arizona

    I like all of the tips above. For years I have felt that parking the car away from the store was an opportunity to walk a bit more. I have also decided to use only hand tools for work, though I realize some people cannot afford to do that.

    Voted this up. A very timely subject. Thank you.

  • Kristen Howe profile image

    Kristen Howe 17 months ago from Northeast Ohio

    Great hub John with handful of tips to stay active and stay healthy. BTW, sirring down should be sitting down for those typos.

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