Are our office chairs killing us?

Posted in : Health & Wellbeing on 12 February 2019
David Casey
DeCare Dental
Issues covered:

Irish Heart’s new campaign on ‘Chairs Can Kill ‘, state that sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat. The National Physical Activity Guidelines state that we should have at least 150 minutes of activity a week. Initiatives that incorporate travel to work such as bike to work, getting of a bus a stop earlier, breaks during the day, the lunchtime mile, walking groups all can contribute to making up an individual’s 150 minutes of exercise every week.

A new survey by the Irish Heart Foundation revealed that the average person in Ireland sits down for 7.3 hours a day. Globally, rising levels of non-communicable disease [NCDS], such as certain cancers, heart disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes type 2 account for approximately 70% of all deaths [WHO, 2016]. Employees spend more than half their waking hours at work, many sitting behind desks, standing at workstations or driving. Apart from inadequate activity, sedentary behaviour in itself or sitting for prolonged periods is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes [Sedentary Behaviour and Obesity Expert Working Group 2010]. Modifiable behaviours, such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol, all increase the risk of NCDs. Raised blood pressure, overweight/obesity, and high blood glucose levels cause metabolic changes that increase risk . The World Health Organizations guidelines have defined the workplace as an optimum place to promote health [WHO, 2010]. Increasing activity levels will help prevent and manage over 20 conditions and diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help to promote mental wellbeing (DH 2004; Pate et al. 1995). Physically active employees are less likely to suffer from major health problems, and are less likely to take sickness leave and less likely to have an accident at work (Dishman et al. 1998).

In order to develop a successful physical activity program in the workplace, experts recommend employers start by developing an overall company culture of health, which serves as the foundation for physical activity and related program. Implementing an internal health in all policies and practice approach incorporating all four areas from the WHO workplace model, will enhance employee health and wellbeing and ensure that the healthy choice is the easiest choice for workplaces.

The physical environment is part of a healthy settings approach and should be addressed when designing and building workplaces. Cycle paths, footpaths and trails should be factored into policy’s to keep employees physically active as part of their daily life, making the healthier mode of transport more accessible. The physical environment should be considered when planning physical activity initiatives for example access to shower rooms in workplaces.

Facilitates should be taken into consideration when building workplaces as they can potentially be a barrier to exercise at work. Ergonomics of the workplace including standing desks, or a posture-improving chair is a great alternative to the typical office setting of a traditional desk and chair and can help you to improve your blood circulation, posture and ability to stretch throughout the day. Ergonomics and the physical environment link and should be incorporated when building a comprehensive physical activity regimen in the workplace. Healthy Ireland has introduced new meeting guidelines. Activity breaks such as walking meetings and healthy food options can increase productivity and creativity. Irish heart state we should track how long we sit and break the habit. Physical activity benefits every aspect of health including mental health [Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008]. Workplaces directly influence the physical, mental, economic and social well-being of workers and in turn the health and quality of life of their families, communities and our society.

Note: David Casey is delivering the Creating a Culture of Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace session at the Irish HR Symposium 2019 on Thursday 7th March 2019 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Blanchardstown, Dublin. Limited places remain.


This article is correct at 12/02/2019

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David Casey
DeCare Dental

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