Sedentary Work Is More Damaging than Simple Inactivity

March 31, 2014
Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP

As more patients work in sedentary occupations, the health of the general population has declined. Some studies have revealed that sedentary workers rarely compensate for their inactivity by increasing their exercise levels and/or reducing their sedentary behavior during leisure time.

As more patients work in sedentary occupations, the health of the general population has declined. Some studies have revealed that sedentary workers rarely compensate for their inactivity by increasing their exercise levels and/or reducing their sedentary behavior during leisure time. As a result, those who spend more time seated are at increased risk for obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, as well as all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality.

Researchers in the United Kingdom recently enrolled 170 full-time office workers for a study designed to track sedentary behavior and physical activity during working hours and off-the-clock periods. A secondary concern was whether workers who are sedentary for a large proportion of their workday compensate during non-working hours. Their results published in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine described participants’ use of the ActiGraph GT1M accelerometer for 7 days.

The researchers calculated time spent sedentary, in light-intensity physical activity, and in moderate-to-vigorous activity around-the-clock for 7 days, 5 of which were workdays. On both workdays and non-working days, the participants spent a tremendous amount of time in sedentary positions, with the average participant spending >60% of their accelerometer wear-time at rest. Additionally, the participants were significantly more sedentary and accrued lower levels of light-intensity activity on workdays in comparison to non-working days.

The participants spent an average of 71% of their working hours in sedentary activity. Those who were most sedentary at work tended to be more sedentary outside of work, which indicated that they failed to compensate for their inactivity by increasing their physical activity or decreasing their sedentary time.

The researchers concluded worksite interventions designed to reduce or interrupt sedentary behavior are urgently needed in office environments. Such interventions should address workplace sitting and encourage workers to increase physical activity during their leisure time, the authors said.