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British sports journal touts the benefits of having workers stand

British sports journal touts the benefits of having workers stand
Citing the perils to health of long sitting, a British panel has recommended workers aim to spend half of an eight-hour work day standing. Although research is not yet definitive, England's public health service says the evidence is strong enough to warrant major changes in workplace practices. (Alex Cossio, Associated Press)

In the United Kingdom, desk-bound workers may soon be following the advice of reggae master Bob Marley, who urged people everywhere to "Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight!"

In a consensus statement published Monday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a panel convened by England's public health services and a British community interest company urged employers initially to get "predominantly desk-based workers" up from their seats, engaging in "standing and light activity" for two hours a day.

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The total time that workers should eventually spend out of their desk chairs should eventually  reach four hours per day, the consensus statement recommended.

Research supporting the corrosive effects of long sitting on health is incomplete, the panel acknowledged. But "the level of consistent evidence accumulated to date, and the public health context of rising chronic diseases, suggest initial guidelines are justified," the consensus document states.

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The consensus document cites population studies finding that compared to those who sit the least, people who sit most suffer rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease more than twice as high, and are 13% and 17% more likely, respectively, to develop cancer or die of any cause.

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Other studies find that as workers' hours spent upright and moving increase, their likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health problems -- or of dying -- steadily falls.

Among Britons working in offices, 65% to 70% of working hours are spent sitting, and more than half of this total is accumulated in what the physical activity experts termed "prolonged periods of sustained sitting."

Promoting more active office environments -- encouraging desk-bound workers to stand while working or walk while conferring with co-workers -- might be "more socially achievable" than getting workers to get up from their chairs and engage in "targeted exercise," they added.

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Such changes might be more easily achieved in Scandinavia, where about 90% of office workers are thought to have access to sit-stand workstations, than in the United Kingdom, where 1% do.

In the United States, where many office workers spend long hours with few breaks at their desks, workstations that allow standing are a growing market.

Companies should also encouraging better nutrition, smoking cessation, less alcohol consumption and stress-reduction in their workers, the group's statement said.

Follow me on Twitter @LATMelissaHealy and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.

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