According to the BJSM
“Doctors from the Karolinska Institute and the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden, say that the term “sedentary behaviour” has come to mean taking no exercise.
But it should be more correctly used to describe “muscular inactivity,” they say.
This is because recent research points to prolonged bouts of sitting and lack of whole body muscular movement as being strongly associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and an overall higher risk of death, irrespective of whether moderate to vigorous exercise is taken.”
The journal mentions the Dunstan research and calls, like always, for more research into the issues which they are categorising as “inactivity physiology”.
“In the future, the focus in clinical practice and guidelines should not only be to promote and prescribe exercise, but also to encourage people to maintain their intermittent levels of daily activities [that involve movement],” they add. “Climbing the stairs, rather than using elevators and escalators, five minutes of break during sedentary work, or walking to the store rather than taking the car will be as important as exercise.”
If the effects of muscular inactivity cannot be redressed by exercise there is a big challenge for several areas of occupational health and safety management.
The wellness advocates will need to go beyond the logic that exercise balances un-exercise and, hopefully, review their business rationale rather than just updating their already unclear jargon.
The ergonomists are going to be relied upon to translate much of the medicine into a format that OHS professionals and regulators can integrate into their advisories.
The office furniture sellers are going to need to explain even more about how their designs negate the risks to health of sedentary workers.
The press release accompanying the BJSM research describes the stair climbing and other suggestions as
“low and minimally time-consuming efforts [that] may encourage many people with problems in maintaining a sufficient level of exercise.” (emphasis added)
Time is the core issue when dealing with the physical health of employees. Time to exercise, time to stretch, time to look out a window, going home at a reasonable hour, time to sleep, time to walk the dog. It is there in wellness, stress, productivity, OHS, mental health, leave use – workers need more time.
The research findings will be a challenge for many areas. In the past the response to such a creeping threat of change has often been to ignore it until we can no longer, or simply to dismiss it and keep getting fat and dying younger. The tipping point, as with so much in OHS, will be when somebody sues.