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Are you Sitting on a Ticking Time Bomb?

Health risks of sitting for prolonged periods

The Lancet have published a new study looking at the results of sitting for prolonged periods and the link to higher mortality.

The study was undertaken by a number of international researchers who analysed the data from 16 studies covering more than one million men and women looking at sitting time, physical activity and mortality.  They found that conditions such as heart disease and cancer were linked to prolonged sitting apart from those people in the top 25% of the study population who performed more than 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on a daily basis.

As a relatively fit person this study doesn’t particularly worry me from a personal perspective. I do have a sedentary job but I exercise a lot when I’m not at work and this counteracts my lack of activity during the day. I’m very aware however that this isn’t the case for everybody and as a health and safety person I’m wondering what can be done in the workplace to have some sort of influence on this.

There is clearly a limit to what an employer can do as there are legal and moral boundaries which cannot and should not be crossed; not everybody is able or willing to exercise so the employer is tasked with finding a compromise that works for everyone.

So what can an employer actually do?

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How employers can manage the health hazards

Health sometimes takes a back seat when it comes to managing health and safety. Safety can be more tangible and more easily tackled. Health also overlaps with things going on outside of the workplace and once again this can make things complicated. The HSE have certainly recognised the need for employers to do more in their ‘Helping Great Britain Work Well’ Strategy*.

Employers can certainly try to encourage people to live healthier lifestyles by organising events that encourage people to become more active or eat more healthily. Depending on the actual type of work being undertaken then other things can also be done like encouraging walking meetings for instance. It might also be possible to walk to somebody rather than phone or email them. Using the stairs rather than the lift can also provide an opportunity for more exercise, while taking a break from our computer screens is also something that provides an opportunity to stretch the legs.

These are all things that a proactive employer can encourage and support and there are potential benefits for them doing this in terms of reducing sickness, reducing absence and generally having more healthy and productive employees.

In the end stopping the ticking time bomb could be as simple as allotting a few short breaks, time away from screens and a little walk around.

Philip Slingsby

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