Update from the Active Working Summit

On a pouring Thursday I pedalled along to the Inaugural ‘Active Working Summit’, arriving in dripping bicycle gear spattered with wet roads and muck. My disappointing entrance was quickly relieved by the exciting line up of planned talks. The day aimed to meld healthcare, scientific research and commercial organisations with intention to promote wellness at work. The event reaffirmed the latest trend in healthcare – that ‘Sitting is the new Smoking’. I wrote about my excitement to attend the Summit in my previous post, but what I learned throughout the course of the day opened my eyes to How Bad Sedentary Behaviour Can Be. Some of the facts gathered at the conference were unbelievable. Dr Stacy Clemes informed us that 65% of the average person’s day was spent sedentary; translating to 9-10 hours a day. However; this is just the average. Workers in some professions, such as telecommunications, will sit for >12 hours a day! This sitting isn’t just due to the workplace setting – it’s deeply rooted into the British culture. Even on our weekends, the average British bloke sits for 8 hours (and woman). It’s sad that even in our leisure/play/holiday/recreation/freedom/not-working time we decide to ‘rest’. But why is the sitting such a problem? Dr Jason Gill, Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences Glasgow, presented a study (Wilmot et al, 2012, Diabetologia) where people who sit the most have a 112% increase in the Relative Risk (RR) of Diabetes and a 147% increase in the RR of cardiovascular events compared to people who sit down the least. Even overall mortality increased by 50%! With this data, sitting is comparable to smoking. Dr David Dunstan, Professor at the Physical Activity Laboratory at Baker IDI, Melbourne linked physical inactivity with increased cancer risks. Lung cancer makes up 13% of all cancer in the UK, and is increased 54% by sedentary lifestyles. Furthermore, uterine cancer is increased by 66% and colon cancer by 30%. On the flipside, getting out of our chairs and taking regular breaks can help to reduce our disease risk. Whilst sitting with standing breaks did little to reduce disease incidence, standing at work or sitting with ‘light-moderate’ intensity breaks has significant effects on blood plasma glucose and insulin levels. Becoming more active doesn’t have to be difficult either; Morris’ 1953 ‘London Bus Study’ compared the mortality rates in bus drivers compared to conductors. You guessed it; sedentary drivers had a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease related mortality than the more ‘active’ conductors. But how active is ‘active’? The conductors weren’t clean and jerking pushchairs and prams, or hurling freeloaders off the bus like a competitor at the Highland Games. Rather, they were walking up and down aisles collecting steps as they stamped tickets. While they sold fares they were putting money in their health-bank. Easy! What key points did I take away with me?

  • We spend the majority of our time in the week, at work, sitting. Physical activity in the workplace is a great way to steal back some lost time.
  • Forget that saturated fat and margarine business, increasing physical activity is one of the greatest investments YOU can make for your health.
  • 30 minutes of exercise a day is great, but is not enough to prevent disease. Aim to get up and walk around throughout the day, to gather ‘low level’ activity.

It sounds straightforward really. We can implement #ActiveWorking on a grassroots scale. We can do this by taking breaks, organising walking meetings, convincing our universities (Oi, King’s) or employers to buy some standing desks. This all helps to improve YOUR health. On a grander scheme, it’s down to the public and the powers-that-be to stir the waters enough to change policy, to create innovative working environments and incentive schemes to get the even the people most stuck to their chairs, moving. I preach to my flatmates (and they’re sick and tired), that #ActiveWorking will be appearing rapidly in the UK. It’s just got to gain that first friendly shove of momentum. The ‘full’ version of this appeared on the BJSM blog. Check it out here to see details regarding the speakers, the talks and references. To see tweets from myself and others from the event, enter #ActiveWorking on Twitter. To find out more about the event, check out www.getbritainstanding.org (@getGBstanding) and http://www.activeworking.org.uk (@ACTIVEworking ) and subscribe to hear the latest details of next year’s event. #exerciseISmedicine

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