In a study published in the prestigious Lancet journal, researchers studied 1 million subjects and found that those who work 8-hours or more at the desk with a sedentary lifestyle are at nearly 30% more risk of dying compared to those who worked less than 4 hours at the desk.
What we already know
As most of us know, a sedentary lifestyle of little physical activity and lots of screen time is not good for health. In fact, this kind of lifestyle is associated with increased risks of obesity and several chronic (long-term) diseases as well as risk of death.
Even back in 1953, another paper published in the Lancet reported that there is an increased risk of heart disease in London bus drivers when compared to their counterparts, bus conductors. Ever since then, many studies have observed that the lack of physical activity poses a major risk to disease and premature death. It is estimated that more than 5 million deaths worldwide may be attributed to the lack of physical activity as recommended by World Health Organization (WHO). Furthermore, sedentary lifestyle, such as watching TV has also been implicated in the risk of disease and death.
However, for many individuals, prolonged sitting in front of a desk is a way of livelihood that cannot be changed. Therefore, researchers took it upon themselves to examine if exercise (in the form of moderate activity such as brisk walking) will reduce or even eliminate the negative health impacts of sitting for long hours.
The research found that people with more than 8 hours of sitting daily (with a sedentary lifestyle) have an increased risk of dying by 27% compared to those who spend less than 4 hours sitting daily.
Furthermore, those who spend more than 5 hours daily watching TV (with a sedentary lifestyle) have a whopping 44% increase in risk of death compared to those who watch TV less than 1 hour daily.
The most interesting finding is that with exercise of at least 1 hour daily, it doesn’t matter if a person spends more than 8 hours daily sitting at a desk job, it brings the risk of death down to that of someone who spends less that 4 hours sitting daily. As for those who watch TV for more than 5 hours daily, exercising for an hour daily lowers the risk of death down to 15% as compared to 44% in those who do not exercise.
By exercise, the study defines it as moderate intensity activities similar to brisk walking at 5·6 km/h, and bicycling for pleasure at 16 km/h.
What the lead investigator has to say
In an interview with The Guardian, lead investigator, Professor Ulf Ekelund from Cambridge University and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences said that “You don’t need to do sport, you don’t need to go to the gym. It’s OK doing some brisk walking, maybe in the morning, during lunchtime, after dinner in the evening. You can split it up over the day, but you need to do at least one hour.”
He also added that “It’s not easy to do one hour of physical activity a day but … the average TV viewing time in adults in the UK today is 3hrs 6mins or something like that, more than three hours… I don’t know if it’s too much to ask that just a little bit of those three hours may be devoted to physical activity.”
Therefore, he suggested that employees working a desk job should take a five-minute break for every hour at work to move their body, even going to the printer would be beneficial.
What can be done?
The results are pretty straightforward; Have at least an hour of moderate intensity activities daily (at one go or split up) and you can cheat death. It’s doesn’t get simpler than that. So how do you go about doing it?
- Take a 5-minute break to do moderate intensity activities for every hour of desk work. That way, you already have about 40mins under your belt by the time you finish work
- Park further and walk to your office
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Help with household chores
- Get treadmill/stationary bike so that you can work out while watching your favourite TV show
- Join a gym class or yoga class
- Take a walk in the park daily
- Ekelund, U., Steene-Johannessen, J., Brown, W., Fagerland, M., Owen, N., Powell, K., Bauman, A. and Lee, I. (2016). Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. The Lancet, 388(10051), pp.1302-1310.
- Siddique, H. (2018). One hour of activity needed to offset harmful effects of sitting at a desk. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/27/health-risk-one-hour-activity-offset-eight-hours-sitting-desk [Accessed 10 Mar. 2018].