Sitting too long at work can be fatal

19:27, Nov 04 2010
Sitting too long at work can be fatal
POTENTIALLY DEADLY: Dr Richard Beasley has conducted research showing risks of blood clotting from sitting at a desk all day. Behind is Thom Charles in the pressure testing chamber.

Tens of thousands of Kiwis are at risk of a potentially fatal "21st-century disease" from sitting at their desks for long periods each day, new research shows.

People who sit without moving for 10 hours a day – and for at least two hours without getting up – are three times more at risk of an embolism or deep vein thrombosis than those who do not, a study by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand suggests.

Lead researcher Richard Beasley said the risks were potentially higher than for those who took long-haul flights because though the absolute risk was lower, more people were sedentary at work more often.

"For many patients this is the major risk factor," Dr Beasley said.

Embolisms and DVT are potentially life-threatening blood clots.

Slow-flowing blood returning to the heart can clot, break away, and travel to the lungs, where it can prove fatal.


The ACC-funded study, which took two years and is a continuation of a six-year research project, compared 197 people who had suffered veinous thromboembolism with 197 controls, and checked for stationary behaviour within the month before the embolism.

The results of the study, the biggest to have researched the link between veinous thromboembolism and workplace behaviour, have been published in the British publication Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Other risk factors include age, obesity, gender (females are more at risk), and a personal or family history of veinous thromboembolism.

Jennie Darby, 62, changed the habits of a lifetime after suffering DVT in her left calf three years ago.

"I would sit at my computer ... for four, six, eight hours at a time, getting up for my lunch and an occasional glass of water, and that's all."

"[Now] I am super-conscious getting up, walking around and doing things.

"One thing a lot of us have not understood is how still we stay during the day. We always print to the nearest printer, lots of us have our lunch at our desk, and we email someone sitting next to us."

Though her grandfather died of an embolism and she had other high risk factors, such as her age, gender, and hormone therapy treatment, Ms Darby considered her former sedentary work behaviour a main factor.

"There was a coroner's inquest on a woman who died from thrombosis and I thought that could easily have been me."

That woman was 41-year-old Jane Pearce, who died after a flight to Brisbane in 2005. Both Dr Beasley and Miss Pearce's parents believed Miss Pearce's sedentary work patterns aggravated the thrombosis.

Dr Beasley, a doctor at Wellington and Kenepuru hospitals, said there were at least 200 cases of thrombosis in the Capital & Coast Health Board district annually but the solutions were simple.

"Our jobs are more sedentary than they were 20, 30 years ago and I'm sure the trend is going to continue, so I'm sure this is a 21st disease but one [with] an easy answer."

There needed to be an increase in awareness, so measures designed to counter thrombosis became as ingrained as those to prevent repetitive strain injury.

The Dominion Post