The benefits of thinking on your feet in the workplace

Dec 30 2013

University of Newcastle physical activity researcher Professor Ron Plotnikoff is taking a stand against sedentary office work, describing sitting as the new “smoking” in terms of Australia’s public health risk.

With data showing that sitting for long periods doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, Professor Plotnikoff is urging workers to stand every 30 minutes and become more active.

“Physical activity is one of the most important lifestyle behaviours for good overall health,” he said. “Conversely, sedentary behaviour has strong links to most chronic diseases so there is a strong push in the public health arena to have workers break up their day by moving around and having standing meetings or, ideally, walking meetings.

“The workplace is being targeted as a very important setting to reduce sitting time. Standing desks, for instance, are now being trialled in offices around the world – they’re even being examined in Australian school settings.”

“Breaking up sitting time by standing or moving around, has numerous advantages – not only physiological benefits but psychological and wellbeing benefits from being more alert and having more vigour in your day.”

Professor Plotnikoff argues that the research is at the same stage now as smoking was several decades ago, and says workplaces will have to rethink their structures and strategies in the near future.

“If workplaces don’t take these issues on board now, they could possibly blame their employers for health conditions developed after years of sitting down,” Professor Plotnikoff added.

“From a population perspective the concern is that the majority of people aren’t active enough. We have to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and people also shouldn’t be sitting for longer than about two hours a day in total.

“Over the season break it’s important that we all try to be more active. It’s a great time to do things with the family rather than sitting in front of TV and computer screens.”

* Professor Plotnikoff is Deputy Leader of HMRI’s Cardiovascular Research Program and Founding Director the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.