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Office work and prolonged periods of sitting: what effects it can have and how to avoid it

Few would disagree that our modern lifestyle does not always account for the fact that the human body has evolved to suit a lifestyle of regular movement and exercise.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the average Australian spends four hours per day engaging in sedentary leisure activities compared with only half an hour of physical activity. In fact, the average Australian adult watches 13 hours of television per week, which adds up to almost a full month every year!

Office workers, such as managers, professionals and clerical or administrative workers, shoulder additional risk by spending an average of 22 to 23 hours per week sitting when at work (and that doesn’t account for what they’re doing on the way to and from work). This figure is compared with less than four hours for labourers.

Worse still, many Australians don’t fit in a workout or a long walk either, which means their bodies are virtually always sedentary. While a brief period of sitting here and there is natural, long periods of sitting day-in and day-out can seriously impact your health and reduce your life expectancy.

In short, your body was designed to be active and on the move all day long. When you stop moving for extended periods of time, it’s almost like your body begins to shut down.

In fact, prolonged periods of sitting over a sustained long term period can result in a range of health issues, such as bad posture, back pain, muscle degeneration, strained neck and shoulders, hip problems and varicose veins to name a few.

And while regular exercise is the key ingredient in the prevention of the health risks associated with prolonged periods of sitting, we’ve put together a few simple tips on how to minimise these risks while you’re actually at the office.

Start by looking at your desk and workstation. It could be worth asking your boss to consider installing a “sit to stand desk” in your work environment. You know that time, about an hour after lunch, when you just feel like crawling under your desk and taking a nap? That is the best time to raise the desk and stand while you work. It will give you an energy boost and help you digest your lunch. Along with a quick apple or banana for a mid-afternoon snack you’ll be surprised how much more productive this makes you for the rest of the day.

Next on the list is to take a good hard look at your workplace behavior patterns. Dump the ones that exacerbate any associated health risks and replace them with new and improved behaviours that help to offset the sedentary nature of your job.

For example, start taking “micro-breaks:” Take five minutes to walk around, visit briefly with a coworker, or make a trip to the supply cupboard and pick up those pens and post-its you’ve been meaning to grab for the last three weeks. This will accomplish both a physical and mental break that will enable you to achieve much more throughout the working day.

Find other ways to stay as active as possible at your workplace. For instance, try using a wireless headset, which will permit you to stand up and walk around during long phone calls, or an ergonomic stool that forces you to stay balanced and use muscles that you wouldn’t normally use while sitting.

In short, do anything that gets you away from the desk and on your feet. And if you absolutely have to sit, do whatever you can to condition your muscles while doing so.

Are you worried that your workplace could be causing bad posture, back pain, muscle degeneration, strained neck and shoulders or hip problems? Make an appointment with Fairfield Physiotherapy to find out more ways to offset all those hours spent in the office.