Are chairs killing us?

Are our office chairs killing us?

Irish Heart’s new campaign on ‘Chairs Can Kill ‘, states 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 each week. Initiatives that incorporate travel to work; such as bike to work,  getting off a bus a stop earlier, breaks during the day, the lunchtime mile, walking groups can all contribute to achieving 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 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, be absent from work 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 begin by developing an overall company culture of health, which serves as the foundation for physical activity and related programs. This may be achieved by implementing a systematic approach to incorporating healthy practices into all policies and workplace practices. The workplace model which the WHO sets forth can provide a benchmark for companies to achieve this.  Thereby enhancing employee health and wellbeing. The physical environment provides an opportunity for employers to enhance employee health.  Cycle paths, footpaths and trails should be factored into policies to keep employees physically active as part of their daily life, making the healthier mode of transport more accessible. Facilitates should be taken into consideration when building workplaces as they can potentially be a barrier to exercise at work. Features such as access to shower rooms in workplaces following exercise during the workday provide another opportunity to enhance employee health. Many employers are carefully considering the ergonomics of the workplace and providing standing desks and posture improving chairs, which improve blood circulation, posture and provide an ability to stretch throughout the day. These options are a healthy alternative to enhance the typical office setting. Ergonomics and the physical environment link should work in tandem 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. The Irish Heart Foundation states that we should track how long we sit and break our sedentary habits. 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.

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