Over one in ten deaths linked to sedentary office life

A still from the movie Ikiru in which the protagonist is sitting at a deskSedentary office life which involves sitting down for at least six hours a day contributes to tens of thousands of people dying every year and costs the NHS £700 million each year, according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Researchers used previous analyses of the increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and cancer that have been associated with extended periods of inactivity. According to this meta-analysis, about a third of British adults spend more than six hours sedentary each day and almost 70,000 deaths a year in Britain – over one in ten of total deaths –  could be attributed in some degree to the behaviour.

The study concludes that office workers must be encouraged to stand up every hour and spend their free time walking to make up for the effects of long days behind a desk. Employers should allow activity breaks and address the fact generally that sedentary office work is a major health risk. The current effects of sedentary office life includes a cost to the NHS of at least £700 million a year, mainly through extra treatment for heart disease and diabetes, the paper estimates. The study estimates that 17 per cent of diabetes, 5 per cent of heart disease and 8 per cent of lung cancer cases could be avoided with less sitting.

Even if you meet the recommended levels of activity you are still at higher risk of some of these health conditions if you are spending long periods of time sitting down during the day

Leonie Heron of Queen’s University Belfast, lead author of the study, said the research “means that even if you meet the recommended levels of activity you are still at higher risk of some of these health conditions if you are spending long periods of time sitting down during the day. Although if you are active, you will attenuate that risk.”

“You need to put your body under a little bit of stress to maintain a healthy heart and whole system,” Ms Heron said. “It suggests that it is bad for our health how our working lives are structured for a lot of people. You can attenuate that risk by being more active in your leisure time, but it’s something employers can look at. Maybe they should be providing opportunities for employees to be active during the day, perhaps making sure people move every hour . . . or providing opportunities during lunch and coffee breaks.”

Image: Akiro Kurosawa’s movie Ikiru about a dying office worker’s search for meaning

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