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Curtin research finds excessive sitting against safe work regulations

Media release

Curtin University researchers have found sedentary working conditions are likely to contribute substantially to increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

Professor Leon Straker from Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science said changes in the physical demands of work and increased use of computers over the last few decades, has led to more workers sitting and being employed in sedentary jobs.

“This has likely had a detrimental effect on their health,” Professor Straker said.

“The recently updated Australian Government guidelines recommend minimising the time spent in prolonged sitting as the evidence for the harm associated with excessive sitting is now widely understood.

“Globally, about two per cent of deaths are related to traditional work-related risks like falls and pollutants but about six per cent are related to too much sitting. This is through the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

“Recent evidence suggests health consequences of too much sitting are of similar magnitude to obesity, tobacco and alcohol use,” Professor Straker said.

Curtin’s study examined how much of the work day is spent in sedentary positions and found, on average, 75 per cent of the office workday is spent sitting, much of which is accumulated in unbroken bouts of a least 30 minutes.

“Occupational health and safety laws in Australia require employers to provide a ‘safe system of working’ however given the available evidence, it appears that modern offices may be failing to provide a safe system of work,” Professor Straker said.

Professor Straker said there are ways to minimise the risks and make changes to reduce chronic diseases including sit-stand workstations, active workshops, and even low-cost strategies such as standing meetings.

“Medical practitioners should also be prescribing behaviour changes to address occupational sedentary exposure,” Professor Straker said.

“For example, if a doctor was aware that a patient had a slipped disc, the employee would stay away from lifting heavy objects at work. Similarly, a patient with a heart condition should be advised to move regularly and restrain from excessive sedentary behaviour.”

Professor Straker said all these strategies were important however ultimately, workers should be mindful to sit less, move more and move more often.

The article was published in the Medical Journal of Australia and can be accessed via mja.com.au/journal/2014/201/3.

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