Computer says ‘yes’ to a break
IT WOULD be the perfect excuse to catch up on the office gossip. Thousands of Scots workers may be issued with computer prompts telling them to get up and stretch their legs under ambitious plans to tackle the nation’s sedentary behaviour.
The plans have emerged amid growing evidence that sitting for long periods is a major health danger – even for those who exercise regularly.
Long spells at computers are thought to cause obesity and other life-threatening diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure even among otherwise active people.
Scottish scientists have shown that a simple computer software download, prompting users to leave their desk every half hour, was effective in reducing long periods of remaining seated. Dr Philippa Dall, research fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University’s School of Health, explained that scientists believe sedentary behaviour is a crucial factor in ill health, even if exercise is taken regularly out of work, because the body’s natural metabolism slows down.
Dall said: “Sedentary behaviour, particularly the length of time spent sitting, is linked to long-term diseases and is detrimental to health, so if you break that up it’s better for you.”
The rise in the likes of call centre jobs means more workers than ever before spend longer sitting at their desks. Statistics show that almost two-thirds of Scots have so-called sedentary lifestyles where they spend long periods not moving, either at work or at home.
The study involved groups of workers who were all given information about the benefits of screen breaks. Half were also given computer downloads which opened a screen window for a minute every half hour reminding them to “stand up, stretch and walk around”.
It could not be moved or minimised and those who were prompted spent less time sitting for prolonged spells and took more breaks.
Dall said: “We found there was a difference between the groups in terms of the amount of prolonged sitting for over 30 minutes.
“There was a reduction both in the number of periods of prolonged sitting, and in the time spent sitting for long periods among the group given the software prompt.”
She added: “Obviously something was happening because they did better than the group who were just told that standing up was advisable.”
Now the researchers plan to carry out larger trials with Scottish office workers to see if the results are similar. If the study proves successful, more office workers will be encouraged to use the software.
Research into the health risks of sedentary behaviour is at an early stage worldwide but the phenomenon is already thought to be crucial in the fight against obesity.
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum welcomed the development. He said: “It’s a good idea to use modern technology to remind people to get up and move, and exercise can be incorporated into office life by doing a little bit now and again, for example by walking to the photocopier or walking up and down the stairs.
“This incremental approach to physical activity is starting to take off. People spend a huge amount of time sitting, and snacking while they are sitting in chairs, so we welcome this approach.”
Colin Borland, head of external affairs for the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland said: “A computer prompt for deskbound workers seems a sensible idea – as long as it doesn’t disrupt time-critical pieces of work. It would be up to each business to decide if this product was right for them. No business wants their employees to be unhealthy as a consequence of their workplace.”
Professor Stuart Biddle, a leading expert in sedentary behaviour research and the executive director at the British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health, said: “It’s early days, but the evidence is showing that there are better health outcomes for people who sit less.
“Of course, taking physical exercise is very important, and most people think that they should be exercising, but there seems to be evidence that if you sit too much and for too long, you are more at risk of diabetes and other health problems.
“It is to do with the way the body metabolism shuts down. So, even if you exercise, you are adding to your health problems if you sit down for long periods. The message is that you need to move more and sit less.
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