Desk-bound office workers should be encouraged to take a stand

Experts say employers setting a daily quota of time where staff should be on their feet, as opposed to sat behind a desk, would make a huge difference to people's health.

ABU DHABI // Could our workplace health be improved through one simple measure – standing up?

Health experts certainly think so, and have encouraged employers to set a daily quota period during which workers should be on their feet, to counteract the problems that sitting at a desk for hours might cause.

Office workers spend between 8 and 9 hours a day behind a desk – a significant portion of the time they spend awake.

This, doctors said, was directly linked to back, neck and muscle pain, and contributed to serious health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure and increased cholesterol levels.

“Workplaces can move towards having a more active workforce,” said Srividhya Iyer, head of the physiotherapy and rehabilitation unit at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi. “Many organisations have a lounge area and activities or measures that encourage people to be on their feet. I think that should be encouraged further.

“Prolonged sitting affects a lot of our body’s systems, the main one being the muscular-skeletal system. It also affects your overall cardiovascular system. Leading a very sedentary lifestyle is one of the risk factors for cardiac disease, unless you supplement sitting behind a desk with regular daily exercise.

“Sitting for hours means you are not exercising, which also leads to obesity,” she said.

Ms Iyer treats many patients with issues that arose from sitting too long at work, with many exacerbating problems by returning home tired and spending the evening in front of the television or on their smartphone.

She recommended adopting the “30-30 rule”, which stipulates that after half an hour sitting in the same position, workers should spend 30 seconds changing their posture or taking a short stretch – and accompanying this with regular short walks in or outside the office.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to leave your office for 15 minutes, just change your posture,” she said. “If you are always in a flexed position, do the opposite movement so your body gets a chance to relax.

“Just getting up from your chair, stretching and changing your posture will help to negate the effects of sitting down for prolonged periods.”

Adjustments to computer screens and printers, and the positioning of office phones were also cost-effective changes that would contribute to a healthier workplace, Ms Iyer said.

As well as the risk of organ damage, wasting muscles and weight gain, Dr Shareef Nada, a specialist in orthopaedics at Prince Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi, said that prolonged sitting could also affect mental health.

“To think clearly, you need fresh blood from oxygen, and this comes from your cardio –your exercise,” she said. “If you are always sitting, there is no fresh blood supply to your brain, so you feel lazy and sleepy and you are not thinking properly.”

In addition to standing every half an hour, she recommended an hour of exercise after the working day and regular exposure to sunlight to increase the concentration of vitamin D.

She also said employers should introduce screening to understand workers’ posture habits.

“We have to see what types of chairs employees sit on, and ask workers how many hours they spend sitting, how many times a day they stretch and if they are allowed regular breaks,” she said.

Pradeep Shankar, physiotherapist at Medeor 24x7 Hospital Abu Dhabi, said prolonged sitting for workers with bad posture increased the risk of afflictions such as disc bulge, hunched posture, tension headaches, slipped discs, cervical disc prolapse, cervical sprains and general strains.

newsdesk@thenational.ae

Published: September 12, 2016 04:00 AM

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