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Queensland Safety Conference highlight impact of sedentary working on health

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Genevieve Healy, from University of Queensland and Baker IDI research fellow, will address the Queensland Safety Conference to warn employers of the damage sitting for hours can cause to their health. Queensland Safety Conference is organised by Australian Exhibitions & Conferences .

New Australian research shows hours of sedentary activity such as typing emails or sitting at a quality control station, are associated with higher cardio-metabolic health risks that are independent of time spent in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity. According to Healy, although Australians have adopted the recommendation of getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on at least five days of the week, they have been getting overweight.

The explanation is that 30 minutes constitutes a small proportion of waking hours. It is important to look at what the person is doing for the remaining hours of the day. A person who follows the guidelines of 30 minutes of brisk walking and spends the other 97% of waking hours sitting is physically active according to public health guidelines. Healy observes that sedentary behaviour has been embedded into workplaces. Computers and labour-saving devices have replaced the need to stand up and move about at work, as well as the physical activity involved in manual handling tasks. Active workers are exercising less as labour-saving devices such as powered pallet trucks reduce the amount of walking in factories and warehouses.

Healy adds that work is now a sitting-friendly environment and together with commuting accounts for most of the waking hours. For these reasons, the workplace is a key setting in which to influence and modify sedentary behaviour. Rather than focusing on ways to reduce manual handling, the safety profession needs to consider ways to bring back physical activity into the jobs.

While technology has led to more sedentary working lives, Healy says it could be used to boost activity levels. Some of the recent innovations to reduce sitting time include electronic sit to stand desks (employees can transition easily from sitting to standing) and slow-moving treadmills, so that they are walking while they are working.

There are simple ways to encourage people to stay active at work. High benches can be put in the tea room and office, so employees can easily incorporate standing into their working lives while eating lunch or reading. If workers are worried about their own activity levels, they can stand up while talking on the phone and cut down on the number of emails they send and instead get up to chat with colleagues in person when they can.

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