x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Is it time to give up your seat for health reasons?

Sitting down less could help you live longer, with long periods of sitting at work or behind the wheel of a car linked to many health problems, even cancer.

For Layla Badri, 37, a writer, it's eight hours a day, six days a week. Alia Noufah, 25, an office administrator from Ajman, estimates it's at least 40 hours a week. For Jane Rollon, 29, a Dubai-based receptionist, 50 hours a week is the norm.

A snapshot survey carried out in the waiting room of a leading Dubai chiropractor sheds light upon a worrying trend that could be taking the ultimate toll on the lives of UAE citizens. "For most of our patients, their occupations involve sitting for long periods of time," explains Dr Pamela Leader at Chiropractic Dubai.

In a poll of her patients carried out for The National, Leader found that most spent around 50 hours a week sitting down. "But that is probably underestimated since most people only consider their working time," she adds. "They forget that they might go home and spend hours watching TV or on the internet."

'Sitting Disease' cuts lives short

In July this year, the UK medical journal The Lancet revealed that a lack of exercise is now causing as many deaths worldwide as smoking. A study by 33 researchers from across the globe showed that one in every 10 deaths from diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, breast and colon cancer stem in part from inactivity.

Research from the Harvard School of Public Health in the US shows that for every two hours you spend seated (whether at a desk or driving) rather than being physically active increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 14 per cent.

A University of Western Australia study revealed that people who spent more than 10 years in sedentary jobs were almost twice as likely to have developed a tumour in the area of the lower bowel called the distal colon.

"Prolonged sitting promotes a lack of whole-body muscle movement," says Leader. "Recent evidence has shown that sitting for long hours, coupled with a lack of exercise and a poor, unbalanced diet, can raise your risk of early death from cardiovascular diseases."

"It's an issue that's of particular concern - or it should be - for workers in countries like the UAE," says Nayab Sultan, a former WHO Consultant in Occupational Health. "The nature of the physical climate, working long hours, long commuting times, dependence on driving rather than walking, poor dietary habits and a general lack of physical exercise are all compounding health factors in the Emirates for many workers, particularly those who sit for a large portion of their day."

Condemned to a 'desk sentence'

The sedentary lifestyle in the UAE coupled with a failure to engage in even the minimum recommended amount of daily exercise is having ever more severe health implications. "Often employees in high-stress jobs are being condemned to a desk sentence," says Sultan. "When it comes to health and safety, there have been significant improvements in the safety universally, such as on construction sites, but the protection of the health of workers in most industries still leaves much to be desired."

Since the global economic downturn, there is a clear increase in the number of heart attacks in the working environment, as well as cases of type 2 diabetes and mental illnesses as a direct result of work-related stress, as workers struggle to keep their jobs and meet their financial responsibilities.

Leader's patients report being able to breathe and sleep better, as well as walk with much more ease, after their chiropractic treatments - but the underlying causes for the headaches, neck pain, back problems and a multitude of other health complaints that the "sitting disease" can spark remains.

"The UAE has a very strong work ethic and from the questions I ask my patients, I believe people often work longer hours and have more stress," she says. "Employers should invest in better ergonomic equipment to suit each employee. Regulations in the US and parts of Europe encourage this, but sadly, only a few companies in the UAE take the trouble to ensure their employees have the correct set up."

Tips to take

Don't fall victim to sitting disease - make these moves now to change your life

Break it down

"It's important to take regular breaks, but people may think moving from their desk and sitting in a canteen or coffee shop is enough. Really it's not," says Dr Pamela Leader. "We recommend getting up for a two-minute walk around the office with regular stretches at least every hour but preferably every half-hour. Consider standing desks and holding standing meetings and book an ergonomic and spinal check to ensure that you have your workstation ergonomically. Visit www.chiropracticdubai.com.

Work it out

While walking to and from work may not be an option in the UAE joining a gym does offer the ideal setting to combat all that sitting. Doing 150 minutes of exercise per week will cut your risk of developing colon cancer by a third. Sadly, a joint Dubai Sports Council (DSC) and Dubai Health Authority study recently revealed that only 36 per cent of Dubai residents are involved in physical exercise.

Make it a team effort

Start up a work-based sport team or group of gym buddies to motivate you all to exercise after work or during your lunch break. A recent University of Bristol (UK) study found that employees who enjoyed a workout before going to the office were better equipped to handle whatever the day threw at them.