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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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