There’s a new health problem impacting workers of all ages. It’s call ‘Sitting Disease.’ It’s actually just a catchy term referring to the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. But it perfectly describes the cause of many aches and pains — and workers’ compensation claims.
Hours of non-stop sitting have been associated with everything from cancer, to obesity and diabetes, to depression and muscular issues. Prolonged sitting has been compared to smoking a pack of cigarettes daily. In fact, the director of an obesity initiative at Arizona State University once said sitting is worse than smoking, “kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting.” James Levine went on to say “we are sitting ourselves to death.”
With more than 60 percent of Americans’ average sitting time spent at work, it’s time for employers to take an active role in helping workers get on their feet. It doesn’t take tremendous expense — in fact, it may not involve any cost. But educating and encouraging employees to stand and move occasionally can go a long way to improving their health and reducing your workers’ compensation injuries.
A myriad of studies in recent years have demonstrated the risks of prolonged sitting. The latest focused on older workers and suggested that even among those who do some exercise, sitting too long can decrease mobility.
The study, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Science was a retrospective look at data from more than 130,000 participants in surveys sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the American Association of Retired Persons.
The respondents ranged in age from 50 to 71. They were asked about their sedentary behavior and physical activity, first between 1995 and1996 then again between 2004 and 2005. Sedentary behavior focused on TV watching, although it also included sitting in front of a computer, napping, or other activities that don’t involve standing or moving. They were also asked about their “mobility disability,” meaning an inability to walk at all or only at an easy pace.
Here’s what they found:
“Our findings indicate that sedentary time is a potent risk factor for mobility loss in older age that is independent of light-intensity and moderate-to-vigorous–intensity physical activity, as well as sex, educational attainment, smoking, and prevailing health status,” the authors said.
Other studies have found similar results. The good news is that reducing sedentary behaviors can improve health and can extend mortality, especially with increased physical activity.
While this study was targeted to older workers, we increasingly see workers of all ages with ‘sitting disease.’ People spend much more time sitting than ever before. We sit in front of computers, or conveyor belts, or in trucks at work; then come home and sit more. All this sitting makes the hip flexors and hamstrings get tight and causes hip, back and other problems.
Many injured workers we see have these issues and can’t pinpoint why; they don’t know what is causing their pain. They just are not thinking about how much they are sitting and the effects it has.
I’m 40 years old and exercise 5 to 6 days per week, but I have to constantly remember to stand, move and stretch or I experience these same ailments.
Advice for Employers
One of the first things employers can do to help their workers is educate them about ‘sitting disease.’ Most people just don’t realize the toll that sitting takes on their bodies. Humans were meant to walk and move, not sit endlessly.
Exercises that strengthen the muscles, increase flexibility and improve posture can go a long way toward relieving some of the pressure sitting puts on the joints and muscles. Workers should also be advised to break up their seated work. Here are some ideas that can help:
People who are physically active but sit for more than 10 hours a day have a 48 percent increased risk of the metabolic syndrome, a term referring to a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, compared to those who sit for less than six hours a day. Researchers also say the risk of chronic disease increases with more than 8 hours a day of sitting.
None of this is too surprising. Think of it this way: work has become increasingly less physically demanding over the past few decades, but at the same time the rate of musculoskeletal diseases has increased. The solution is easy: stand, move and stretch.
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