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The True Cost of Sitting: A Business Case for Strong Corporate Health Programs

“We are sitting ourselves to death” Dr. James Levine author of the book Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Levine also coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”, a dramatic analogy which asks people to rethink their daily lives. Too much sitting, according to him and other scientists, can not only increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease, today we also know that back pain and especially chronic back pain are associated with long hours of sitting.

A culture of sitting

However, it is hard to escape what Levine calls “modernity’s sedentary lifestyle”. According to the results of the 2015 American Working Conditions Survey “more than one-third of American men and 54 percent of American women work in jobs that involve sitting all or most of the time”. This is by no means different in the European Union, where sitting shapes the daily work lives of many. In 2015 the European Working Conditions Survey  found that 28 percent of Europeans sit at work “(almost) all the time”. Additionally, an average of 31 percent reported that they spent between one- and three-quarters of their time at their job in a chair. This means that substantial numbers of people in the EU and the US spend a large proportion of their lifetime sitting at work, which according to Levine “kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting”.

People reporting to sit at work “(almost) all the time” in each European country.

People reporting to sit at work “between 25% or 75% of the time” in each European country. 


Adapting one’s daily routine

Yet, it’s easy to dismiss sitting theoretically. But on a more practical level, it is unavoidable for many, unless we reinvent today’s economy and workplaces entirely. Levine also acknowledges this and suggests a few easy strategies to adapt one’s daily routine at the office.

For instance, taking a walk after lunch or simply having a break and the occasional walk around the office can considerably improve one’s well-being.

(In an earlier post we’ve also introduced a few easy exercises, which you can painlessly integrate into your office routine). But it’s not only beneficial for employees to think about ways to improve their general well-being and overall health. In fact, studies suggest that especially employers can gain from a healthy workforce.


The business case for strong corporate health and wellness programs

A 2015 paper in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that businesses in particular can profit from healthier and happier employees and that companies with strong health and wellness programs outperformed their competitors on the stock market. This is not surprising considering that estimates suggest that one-quarter of adults in the US experiences chronic back pain, which alone costs the US-economy $100 billion a year. This is by no means different in European countries. The German economy, for example, loses approximately €16 billion annually caused by sick leaves due to back pain.

This means that for business owners there is an opportunity to improve the performance of their company by investing into their employee’s health. Especially by reducing long hours of sitting and offering alternatives like standing tables or corporate health programs, they can not only make office life more exciting. They also benefit from a reduction of sick leaves and an overall happier and healthier workforce.

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