Take a stand for more activity in the office

Last updated 05:00 04/08/2014

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Orders to stand and deliver may be coming to an office near you soon - thanks to calls for doctors to prescribe standing desks to combat poor health.

In an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia today, researchers say GPs should be able to prescribe active working behaviours for at-risk office employees. These could include redesigning workstations, tasks or even the workday to allow more frequent breaks.

The researchers say long periods spent sitting still are connected with shorter life spans, obesity, cancers, diabetes and heart disease. Even office-based employees getting their recommended daily exercise outside of work hours can still be put at risk from long hours sitting in front of a computer.

More than 75 per cent of the office workday was spent on a chair, usually in unbroken bouts of more than 30 minutes.

"It appears that contemporary offices may be failing to provide a safe system of work," the paper says.

As sit-stand office workstations have significantly reduced sedentary time, the researchers believe GPs should be actively pushing for their use.

Rod Drury, chief executive of Wellington tech firm Xero, said any good employers would honour such a prescription, though he noted providing a replacement desk could be an expense for businesses. Xero's Wellington branch had a pod of standing worktables.

"We're lucky because we're growing and adding new staff."

He said adjustable desks, which could change from both seated to standing position, were relatively affordable.

"Only about 10-15 per cent of people would use them, but it's just about providing some options."

But Auckland University of Technology researcher Grant Schofield said it was a "no brainer" to introduce more physical activity into the work environment.

"The modern workplace is clearly broken."

While active working might be a worthy goal, a prescription system probably wasn't the only answer. He said the Green Prescription system, used to promote healthy nutrition and physical activity, was introduced 16 years ago but was still not widely used.

"It could be it only gets used when something goes wrong," Schofield said.

Acute symptoms like pain often drove doctors and patients to seek a solution like a standing workstation, rather than the risk of long-term illnesses.

Wellington GP Richard Medlicott said GPs already had tools, including the Green Prescription, to address the health imapct of patients' long bouts of sedentary work.

"Often I'll write a letter to their HR manager or employer to have a review by an occupational therapist or physiotherapist," he said.

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"On the whole in my experience, employers are responsive to those health and safety issues."

Under the country's Health and Safety in Employment Act, employers must take all practicable steps to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

- The Dominion Post

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