Workers Health & Safety Centre

Excessive sitting leads to significant risk to worker health

Worker using a standing desk
Sitting for most of the workday can be extremely hazardous to your health—even with regular exercise, according to a study recently published by Toronto researchers.
“The data extracted from the 40 plus research studies reviewed showed the association between sedentary activity and adverse health outcomes was approximately 15 per cent,” says Dr. David Alter, a leading author of this study and senior scientist, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network (UHN). “These adverse health outcomes include either total mortality, onset of coronary artery disease, death from ischemic heart disease, onset of cancer, and death from cancer. The risk between sedentary time and type 2 diabetes was much higher (as high as 90%) than for these other health conditions.”
And these statistics were adjusted for the effects of regular physical activity.
"Our study finds that despite the health-enhancing benefits of physical activity, this alone may not be enough to reduce the risk for disease,” says Dr. Alter. The authors also noted however, those who engage in higher levels of physical exercise compared to lower levels do suffer less.
Previous studies have also made the link between prolonged sitting and various illnesses ranging from heart disease and circulatory system conditions to cancer. Many more have linked excess sitting with back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Here in Ontario, workers, their representatives and progressive employers have long recognized the risk to health posed by prolonged sitting and the need for workplace prevention solutions that limit this work.  The provision and use of properly designed and adjustable chairs and work surfaces along with job rotation and enrichment designed to reduce the amount of time each day workers perform sedentary work are just a few examples.
Equally important in terms of prevention is training designed to ensure workers and other workplace parties understand the risks to health and the prevention solutions for limiting exposure to sedentary work.  
In Britain, a national campaign is underway to increase awareness about the risk to health posed by sedentary work/prolonged sitting. In fact, British workers are encouraged to take part in the first ever national day to sit less and move more, which is scheduled for Friday, April 24.
For our part, the WHSC offers a suite of specialized training programs aimed at helping workplace parties understand the importance of designing work to fit the needs of workers. This includes the need to design work to limit sedentary work. 
For additional information about WHSC training or how the WHSC can help with all of your health and safety training needs:
Call:   1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training service representative
Want to know more about the Get Britain Standing campaign?
Want to read more about the study Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis?  
Want to read the WHSC sitting fact sheet?