Working Harms Your Health

Research has found that sitting seems to increase your risk of death from heart disease and other causes, and this happens even if you follow the Australian National Physical Activity Guidelines exercise . It is thought that excessive sitting may undo the benefits of your daily exercise.

Many of us spend large chunks of our day sitting, especially when we’re at work. If we’re not glued to a computer screen or tethered to a phone, then we’re stuck in seats around tables in meetings. And that’s on top of the hours we spend sitting in cars, buses or trains getting to and from work. All this this sitting affects our body’s processing of fats and sugars in ways that increase our risk of heart disease and diabetes.

“When we’re idle, we’re not contracting muscles and muscle contraction is an important component of the body’s regulatory processes,” says Dunstan, from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute. In fact, one American expert, Professor Marc Hamilton, from Pennington Biomedical Research Center, has gone so far as to suggest sitting for most of the day may be as dangerous to health as smoking.

The researchers linked four or more hours a day of television watching with an 80 per cent increased risk of death from heart disease, and a 46 per cent increased risk of death from all causes. That’s compared to people who spent less than two hours a day in front of the box.

But it’s the fact we watch TV while sitting or lying still that’s the problem, rather than TV per se, Dunstan says. This clearly has implications for the highly sedentary workplace environment. The key is to avoid sitting as much as possible or at least break up your sitting time – even if only by standing, which uses more muscles than sitting. (This is not mentioned in the current national exercise guidelines but Dunstan and others believe they need to change.)

What you can do

Even little activities like getting up to make a cup of tea can make a difference.

“We’ve actually reported that people who break up their sedentary time throughout the day, regardless of their total sedentary time, have a better health profile,” Dunstan says. “It all comes down to moving the muscles.”

  • Standing when you use your phone (or use a cordless handset or headset so you can move around even more)
  • Moving your rubbish bin/printer further away from your desk so you need to get off your chair to access them
  • Taking the stairs instead of the lifts between floors
  • Walking to a colleague to talk to them instead of sending an email
  • Getting up to move around for few minutes or so every hour
  • Doing household chores like ironing or folding the washing while watching TV
  • Standing to watching children’s sporting activities.
  • Stand up on public transport
  • Lose the remote control for your TV

Put simply, just get off your backside whenever you can. And when you feel you can’t be bothered, think that you will be reducing your risk of heart disease and premature death from other causes.

The Australian National Physical Activity Guidelines

The Australian National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children and teenagers undertake 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. According to the guidelines, exercise for 5-18 year olds should be fun and interesting and cover a variety of activities. It should present a challenge and suit their interests, skills and abilities. Children should undertake some vigorous activity which makes them “huff and puff”. Sounds like your typical session with Hooked on Health, doesn’t it?

However, the guidelines seem to assume that once you turn 18, most people see exercise as a boring chore which needs to be got through rather than enjoyed!

Step 1 – Think of movement as an opportunity, not an inconvenience
Where any form of movement of the body is seen as an opportunity for improving health, not as a time-wasting inconvenience.
Step 2- Be active every day in as many ways as you can
Make a habit of walking or cycling instead of using the car, or do things yourself instead of using labour-saving machines.
Step 3 – Put together at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, day.
You can accumulate your 30 minutes (or more) throughout the day by combining a few shorter sessions of activity of around 10 to 15 minutes each.
Step 4 – If you can, also enjoy some regular, vigorous activity for extra health and fitness
This step does not replace Steps 1-3. Rather it adds an extra level for those who are able, and wish, to achieve greater health and fitness benefits.


I know that care must be taken when making general exercise recommendations, but come on! Why beat around the bush? You need to exercise to keep your body efficient, and unless a body has severe health problems every body should be able to manage to move for 30 minutes each and every day.  30 minutes a day – that’s just over 3% of your waking hours (assuming you are getting a good 8 hours a night!) Three percent of your time moving, and that’s the recommendation coming from the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing! and yes, I hear you – you can’t make it seem too daunting or people will just give up, but my point is, what has life become, when we have to pussy foot around people’s sensibilities to try to get them to do something which used to come naturally? Something which (without trying to sound too freaky) is a spiritually uplifting and joyous activity. We all have days when exercise IS a chore, but for the most part, it’s great, and we should be singing it’s praises rather the prescribing it in these dour terms!

So do at least the amount of exercise in these guidelines and couple that with lots of standing and walking round at working rather than sitting for great big long stretches, and you should be able to ward off heart disease and other life threatening illnesses.