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Move away from the killer chairs!

September 14, 2010

Take a seat.  No, on second thoughts stand up and jiggle about to read this.  Two studies from the USA, a decade apart, highlight the peril that lurks beneath us. 

A paper by Lars Bo Anderson and colleagues, published by the American Medical Association in Archives of Internal Medicine (160:1621-1628) in 2000, looked at the risks associated with physical inactivity.  Physical activity at work, sports participation and bicycling to work were all considered.  The researchers undertook a prospective study, beginning with a random sample of 13,375 women and 17,265 men.  They sought to ascertain the whether physical inactivity posed a consistent threat in different demographic groups.   Follow-up fourteen years later identified 2,881 deaths in the women and 5,668 in the men.   Headline results include that, compared with the sedentary, physically active groups showed between 0.68 (lowest level of activity versus  a sedentary lifestyle) and 0.53 (most active) of the age- and sex-adjusted mortality rates.  That would be about half.   

The team’s analysis of physical activity at work took into consideration features such as primarily sitting at a desk or housework not involving children and with domestic help (the lowest level of activity); sitting and standing with some walking, such as teaching or housework); walking, with some lifting (e.g. postal work or housework with young children); and, at the upper end of the scale, heavy manual work.  A similar categorisation of leisure pursuits was also used. 

For women, greater physical activity at work was associated with a decreased mortality rate.  However, for men, the paper reports no difference in age-adjusted mortality rates in regard to different levels of workplace physical activity.  Interesting, and maybe reassuring given that so many may use the demise of physical activity in work as an explanation of illness. 

The authors stated that the ‘major findings of this large-scale epidemiological study were that in both sexes and in all age groups there was a lower mortality in the physically active compared with the inactive.’ 

A second study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2010 (172(4): 419-429), examined the impact of sedentary leisure on mortality.  Alpa Patel and colleagues surveyed time spent sitting as well as physical activity in a large sample (53,440 men and 69,776 women who were all disease free at the time the project began).  Fourteen years later, 11,307 of the men and 7,923 of the women had died.  The team found that, after allowing for a range of other factors, such as smoking, body mass index and physical activity, time spent sitting was associated with mortality in both men and women.  Cardiovascular disease was most strongly associated with sitting.  Sedentariness was independently associated with mortality, regardless of the level of physical activity.  The authors concluded that ‘public health messages should include both being physically active and reducing time spent sitting’.

We are undoubtedly complex animals, and the mechanisms in play will have many contributory factors.  Given that so many of the modern workforce now spend a large part of their working day (not to mention their travel to work and leisure) seated, some form of movement might be a good idea.  Long duration sitting, as in long-haul air travel, is notoriously associated with the rare but serious threat of DVT or deep vein thrombosis.  Studies such as the ones mentioned here point to another, and possibly more prevalent, form of DVT.  That is ‘Desk-bound Vitality Threat’.   Concerns about posture at workstations seems to me only the small part of the picture.  However ‘ergonomic’ the alignment may be, movement is what is required and not some fixed and optimised structural arrangement.  Even though actually getting up and roaming about may be unfeasible for lots of office workers, the onboard exercises promoted for air travel suggest that something can be done.  And Andrew Bellamy has suggested on the 100 Rep Challenge site a ‘covert’ routine of isometric exercises that can be performed whilst seated, virtually anywhere. 

As anthropologist and 21st century physical culturist Frank Forencich put it in the frontispiece to his 2006 book Exuberant Animal,

‘Before beginning a program of physical inactivity, consult your doctor. Sedentary living is abnormal and dangerous to your health.’

Time for that walk, and maybe better grab a bottle for the water cooler while you are at it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2010 15:05

    Great post!

  2. September 22, 2010 21:46

    Spot on Magnus – makes me realise why I love my early mornings in the garden so much!

  3. Idriss Dahbi permalink
    November 5, 2010 13:04


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