Exercise as it relates to Disease/How detrimental can office work be on health and wellbeing?

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This WikiBooks page is a critical analysis and appraisal of the journal article "The contribution of office work to sedentary behaviour associated risk" by Parry and Straker (2013)[1]

What is the background to this research?[edit | edit source]

Sedentary behaviour is a continual concern for our society due to it being heavily related to causing poor health and chronic diseases that could lead to mortality[2][3][4]. This is majorly due to the new age where technology has started to overtake our everyday lives, causing an increase in sedentary time[5][6][7]. Recent studies have found that office workers spend a staggering amount of their time at work sedentary, which is a major concern with such a large population, especially in Australia, working in office jobs[8][9][10].

There is a lot of data based upon sedentary behaviours relating to occupations, but there was no knowledge of the contribution that sedentary occupations had towards the overall sedentary exposure of an individual[1]. Therefore, the aim of this study is very important in our current technology-based society that could potentially be at a higher risk of poor health[2][11]. This study assessed office workers by wearing an accelerometer during the day over the space of a week and recorded daily activities in a diary to determine the relationship between work and non-work activity rates.

Where is the research from?[edit | edit source]

Parry and Straker conducted their study on office workers from a large resource company in Perth, Australia via the United Kingdom (UK)-based open access publisher BioMed Central. This publisher shares peer-reviewed articles based on many topics such as science and medicine and claims to be the largest open-access science publisher in the world[12][13].

Parry and Straker have both researched the sedentary behaviours and worked as physiotherapists in Australia and the UK for many years, but now both currently work at Curtin University in Perth[14][15]. Straker has a worldwide reputation for his research and is recognised as a leader in physiotherapy in Australia [15].

What kind of research was this?[edit | edit source]

This study was classified as an observational study due to having a group of office workers participating in the same method throughout the course of the procedure. There were no random selections for the study. The office workers chosen to participate were recruited via a criterion-based upon their working frequency and hours and were asked to then volunteer. The data gathered from the research was done via an accelerometer which was then analysed by using paired t-tests and Pearson’s correlations to see the relationship between work and non-work activity. Due to the research’s design suiting the overall aim this observational study is deemed appropriate.

What did the research involve?[edit | edit source]

A strict recruiting protocol was taken in place for the office workers with 176 completing a physical activity survey and only 51 subjects were able to volunteer to wear an Actical accelerometer for the seven day period during waking hours. The Actical accelerometers have been shown to a reliable source for physiological data gathering as well as providing valid measurements of low energy expenditure behaviours[16][17].

The data gathered from this study included measuring sedentary, light and moderate to vigorous time during work hours and non-work hours throughout an entire week via the accelerometer. Whilst activities that occurred without wearing the accelerometers were recorded in a simple diary, which could potentially be deemed as a very subjective source of information.

Data analysis from the accelerometers occurred via LabView program which was able to identify the intensity of exercise the subjects had[18]. From this data, combined with the diary entries, the results between work and non-hours and work and non-work days were compared by using paired T-Tests, which were further analysed by using Pearson’s Correlation. These two methods are very simple but effective ways of comparing and correlating the data, providing clear and precise results.

What were the basic results?[edit | edit source]

There were multiple key findings from this well-executed study, one including that office workers spent 82% of their work hours on workdays sedentary, which is a staggering figure to consider when compared to 67% on non-work hours on workdays. It was also found that sustained sedentary time above 30 minutes for work hours on workdays (40.8 ± 16.6) was nearly double non-work hours on workdays (22.8 ± 10.9). Another result shown in Table 1 is that light activity bouts between 5-10 minutes showed a massive difference between work hours on workdays (2.6 ± 1.7) and non-work hours on workdays (6.5 ± 3.4).

Table 1 - Selected Exposure Variance Analysis variables demonstrating patterns of sedentary time, light activity and MVPA during work and non-work periods[1]

Workday Non-workday Work hours on Workday Non-work hours on work day Total Non-work Time
Sustained sedentary time >30 mins 34.1 ± 11.6 26.9 ± 11.1 40.8 ± 16.6 22.8 ± 10.9 25.8 ± 9.6
Light activity bouts 0–5 mins 13.4 ± 2.2 14.6 ± 2.8 12.2 ± 3.1 15.4 ± 2.2 14.8 ± 2.3
Light activity bouts 5–10 mins 4.1 ± 2.1 7.5 ± 3.7 2.6 ± 1.7 6.5 ± 3.4 7.2 ± 3.3
MVPA bouts > 10 mins 1.2 ± 1.6 1.1 ± 1.9 0.5 ± 1.0 2.2 ± 3.2 1.4 ± 2.0
Breaks in sedentary time 6.0 ± 1.4 9.2 ± 9.8 5.1 ± 1.7 7.9 ± 2.1 8.0 ± 2.6

Another staggering result was that proportionally, 78% of the subjects had a larger accumulation of sedentary time on workdays in comparison to non-workdays. There was a very similar result with 84% of participants also have less light activity on workdays.

Based on the clear results gathered the researchers found and interpreted that working in an office had a massive contribution towards the overall accumulation of sedentary time as well as sustained sedentary time. Although, these results could somewhat be an over-emphasis due to the fact that office work often tends to involve sitting at a desk working on paperwork or devices which does not require much or any physiological demands.

What conclusions can we take from this research?[edit | edit source]

This observational study provides very important information regarding the staggering amount of time that office workers spend sedentary during their waking hours. It also highlights the importance of needing to interrupt sedentary periods as well as including some form of exercise into their days. With office work having such low physiological demand, it can be quite difficult to incorporate physical activity into a day, but as stated before, the risks associated with prolonged sedentary behaviour can result in chronic disease and premature mortality[2][3].

This study also matches the results and conclusions from other sedentary office work studies having a very similar accumulation of sedentary time during work hours[8] as well as sitting time[9]. The conclusions from these studies also show how damaging prolonged sedentary periods can be on the body.

Practical advice[edit | edit source]

If office workers were to implement an exercise intervention into their days, it is highly necessary to be pre-screened by a health professional prior to any exercise. Within an office environment, a health and wellbeing program should be taken into to place, introducing education and healthy actions, aiming to reduce the detrimental effects of sedentary behaviour.

Over the years there have been many strategies developed within offices to reduce prolonged sedentary time such as; sit and stand work desks, active emails, walking meetings and step challenges within a working cohort. By applying these ideas into working days, the chances of increasing light-moderate exercise time and reducing sedentary time are increased.

These strategies may be helpful, but the company also needs to consider whether they are appropriate for the variety and type of office work as well as considering whether the practical interventions will interfere with work productivity. Ultimately, it comes down to the motivation of the individual to participate in trying to reduce sedentary behaviours and incorporate exercise into their everyday lives.

Further information/resources[edit | edit source]

[Prolonged sedentary time combined with physical activity]

[Sitting pattern at work]

[Sitting time and mortality from chronic disease]

[What is sedentary behaviour?]

[Is standing at work the solution?]

[Workplace interventions reducing sedentary time for office workers]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c Parry, S. and Straker, L. (2013). The contribution of office work to sedentary behaviour associated risk. BMC Public Health, 13.
  2. a b c Katzmarzyk, P., Church, T., Craig, C. and Bouchard, C. (2009). Sitting Time and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(5), pp.998-1005.
  3. a b Healy, G., Winkler, E., Dunstan, D., Matthews, C. and Owen, N. (2010). Objectively measured sedentary time, physical activity and cardio-metabolic risk in adults: NHANES (USA) 2003–2006. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12, pp.e203-e204.
  4. Healy, G., Matthews, C., Dunstan, D., Winkler, E. and Owen, N. (2011). Sedentary time and cardio-metabolic biomarkers in US adults: NHANES 2003–06. European Heart Journal, 32(5), pp.590-597.
  5. Sedentary Behaviour Research Networ (2012). Letter to the Editor: Standardized use of the terms “sedentary” and “sedentary behaviours”. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 37(3), pp.540-542.
  6. Matthews, C., Chen, K., Freedson, P., Buchowski, M., Beech, B., Pate, R. and Troiano, R. (2008). Amount of Time Spent in Sedentary Behaviors in the United States, 2003-2004. American Journal of Epidemiology, 167(7), pp.875-881.
  7. Brownson, R., Boehmer, T. and Luke, D. (2005). DECLINING RATES OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IN THE UNITED STATES: What Are the Contributors?. Annual Review of Public Health, 26(1), pp.421-443.
  8. a b Thorp, A., Healy, G., Winkler, E., Clark, B., Gardiner, P., Owen, N. and Dunstan, D. (2012). Prolonged sedentary time and physical activity in workplace and non-work contexts: a cross-sectional study of office, customer service and call centre employees. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9(1), p.128.
  9. a b Ryan, C., Dall, P., Granat, M. and Grant, P. (2011). Sitting patterns at work: objective measurement of adherence to current recommendations. Ergonomics, 54(6), pp.531-538.
  10. Toomingas, A., Forsman, M., Mathiassen, S., Heiden, M. and Nilsson, T. (2012). Variation between seated and standing/walking postures among male and female call centre operators. BMC Public Health, 12(1).
  11. Healy, G., Dunstan, D., Salmon, J., Cerin, E., Shaw, J., Zimmet, P. and Owen, N. (2008). Breaks in Sedentary Time: Beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care, 31(4), pp.661-666.
  12. Biomedcentral.com. (2019). About BMC. [online] Available at: [[1]] [Accessed 2 Sep. 2019].
  13. BioMed Central [Internet]. En.wikipedia.org. 2019 [cited 2 September 2019]. Available from: [[2]]
  14. Public Staff Profile - Staff Portal [Internet]. Staff Portal. 2019 [cited 2 September 2019]. Available from: https://staffportal.curtin.edu.au/staff/profile/view/Sharon.Parry/
  15. a b Public Staff Profile - Staff Portal [Internet]. Staff Portal. 2019 [cited 2 September 2019]. Available from: https://staffportal.curtin.edu.au/staff/profile/view/L.Straker/
  16. Esliger D, Tremblay M. Technical Reliability Assessment of Three Accelerometer Models in a Mechanical Setup. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2006;38(12):2173-2181.
  17. Wong S, Colley R, Gorber S, Tremblay M. Actical Accelerometer Sedentary Activity Thresholds for Adults. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2011;8(4):587-591.
  18. Mathiassen S. Diversity and variation in biomechanical exposure: What is it, and why would we like to know?. Applied Ergonomics. 2006;37(4):419-427.