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Employers should make staff stand for
2 hours a day: experts

If you're sitting down while you're reading this, you might want to stand up.

In fact, if you're an office worker you definitely should. The risk caused by prolonged periods spent sitting down at work has led an international team of experts to call for all office-based workplaces to ensure their staff spend at least two hours each day standing or moving around in order to protect them from heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The UK government commissioned an expert group to provide guidelines for employers about what they should be doing to look after the health of workers who are employed in largely sedentary jobs.

The team, which included an Australian expert from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, found at the very minimum workplaces should aim to ensure staff were accumulating two hours of standing or light walking during a day. Eventually, this should increase to four hours.

"In the past five years, an accelerated amount of evidence has been published on the links between sedentary living, including time at work, and the leading causes of morbidity and mortality (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers)," they wrote in the recommendations, which will be published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on Tuesday morning.

It is estimated that we now exert about 175 calories (732 kilojoules) less each day than we did in the 1960s, and do about 20 per cent less physical activity. On current trends, we will do 35 per cent less physical activity by 2030, the authors said.

"Most of this reduced energy expenditure has… been in the form of displacing light physical activity for sedentary behaviours and not necessarily from decreased active leisure, exercise or sporting pursuits, which have traditionally been the sole focus of many health, social and political campaigns," they wrote.

But they warned that simply installing stand-up desks might not be enough to get people moving in the office, with workplaces needing to implement long-term strategies.

Considering back, neck and muscle pain are the biggest drivers of sick-leave, any such strategies may also save companies money in the long-term because they may help sufferers, they said.

The recommendations

  • Start trying to get people standing or moving for two hours a day, then progress to four
  • Prolonged static standing positions should also be avoided
  • Adjustable desks are recommended, so people can regularly change their work position

Source: the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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