Forget walking into the abyss; working Brits are sitting

Workers in Britain are racking up an average of nine hours sitting-time a day – and when they’re not in a chair, or aching because of one, they’re falling out with others over them, research from AXA PPP healthcare has found.

The healthcare company’s poll of 2,000 people who use a chair during some or most of their working day found that, on average, they’re spending five hours sitting at work, an hour or more seated while travelling to and from work and over three hours sitting down during their own time. This nine-hour sit time total is tantamount to a UK flight to the Caribbean, a drive from Brighton to Edinburgh or climbing and descending Snowden.

With so much time spent being sedentary it’s not surprising that over seven out of ten (73%) of respondents reported suffering from musculoskeletal problems such as back, neck and shoulder pain.

Yet, whilst the research shows that most workers (86%) are aware of the potential health hazards of a sedentary existence (as well as musculoskeletal problems this includes coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes**), fewer than half of them (43%) say they try to do something about it by getting out of their seats regularly.

Twenty-seven per cent say they feel they can’t do anything about it and 19% maintain being seated for protracted periods of time won’t affect their health. Twelve per cent said they were aware of the danger but ‘didn’t care’.

Jan Vickery, ‎head of clinical operations for AXA PPP healthcare, commented: “Sitting for prolonged periods of time can create muscle and joint problems and/or exacerbate existing ones. The intensity and pace of working life today makes it all too easy to fall into the trap of staying rooted to our seats for protracted periods and then slumping into a comfy chair when the working day done.

“But it’s important to break up the long-haul sitting style with regular spells of activity to re-energise and promote better health and to lower the risks associated with sedentary living – both now and over longer term.”

For Brits and their chairs it doesn’t end there. Almost four out of 10 confessed to having had a spat with someone over a seat at work, at home or in public, with respondents reporting disagreements caused by a range of discourteous or annoying behaviours such as another person grabbing a seat they were about to use (16%), or the other party occupying their seat (14%).

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‘Space invaders’ (taking up two seats or encroaching respondents’ personal space, 13% and 11% respectively) were another source of irritation as were squatters who altered (12%) or left a mess on the respondent’s chair (12%).

Vickery concluded: “While there may be very little we can do to change other people’s selfish behaviour and poor manners, we can take greater control over our own chair habits for better health. It’s important to keep check on the length of time we’re seated and avoid unbroken stretches of static time.

“Make sure you take regular breaks – say, every half hour or so – to stretch your legs and clear your head. And try applying good active habits at home as well as at work so they become part of your natural behaviour. Taking such steps can make a big difference and help to make regular activity the norm rather than the exception.”

Ideas for exercising in groups:

Set up your own fitness sessions. If you can’t find a convenient exercise class or group to join, why not set up your own session – perhaps in a park? Or you could organise brisk walks several times a week with a group of neighbours and friends. Alternatively, get your work colleagues to commit to a 30-minute lunchtime power walk. Do this three times a week and within a couple of weeks you’ll not only start to feel fitter but you might find you have increased levels of energy and alertness in the afternoon.

Join a walking group. It’s a great way to meet other keen walkers, and walking alongside each other is good for increased motivation and pushing yourself to walk that little bit further. If you have a friend with a dog, why not ask to go dog walking with them. If you regularly walk a dog, you’re more likely to meet the recommended levels of weekly physical activity.

Organise regular workout sessions with family and friends. You could choose one activity you all enjoy to do regularly, or take turns to choose different exercises, for example a swimming session one week; a group walk the next, a ball game in the park the week after. Get the kids involved too – the variety and fun factor will help keep you all motivated and looking forward to it!

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