Listen to part of a BBC radio programme where Professor Ulf Ekelund, from the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, answers questions on the risks of office work and choose the option A, B or C which best completes each of the sentences below.
1 Sitting at a desk for eight hours
A demands the same physical activity as an hour’s walk.
B is harmful for a person’s health.
C leads to premature death.
2 Professor Ulf Ekelund thinks the really harmful thing for a person’s health is
A lack of activity.
B office work.
3 Standing from a desk
A is a form of physical activity.
B is not a form of physical activity.
C has not been demonstrated that it is physical activity.
4 Workers who spend their day sitting at a desk
A must cycle or go out for a walk for an hour every day.
B should drink more coffee.
C should try and do physical activity in the workplace.
5 Increasing physical activity by 10 to 20 minutes would
A diminish the risk of chronic diseases.
B motivate the population to live a healthier life.
C put an end to premature death.
6 Professor Ulf Ekelund says
A five million people die because of lack of activity every year.
B five million people die because of smoking every year.
C the research on the effects of inactivity started 4 years ago.
7 The research
A hasn’t reached conclusive results.
B monitored 1 million people.
C monitored 13 million people.
It’s crazy to smoke, we all know that because it’s so bad for your health, but going to work and sitting at a desk? The Telegraph’s headline this morning is: Working in an office - as bad as smoking. They’ve picked up on a study published in The Lancet, it’s of a million people and it suggests that if you sit at a desk for eight hours a day then you increase your risk of premature death by 60%, but if you’re active for one hour, even just going for a walk, then you undo that damage. Well the man leading the research was Professor Ulf Ekelund from the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences and he’s here in the studio. Good morning.
Let’s start with that headline, is it true that sitting at a desk for eight hours is as bad as smoking?
Well, I would say physical inactivity is as bad as smoking, so if you compare smokers with non-smokers and if you theoretically could take all smokers to be non-smokers and you could take all of those of us who are inactive to become active then the risks are more or less the same.
OK, I think I’m following you there. And you particularly, well there’s a number of things you pick up there but one, it’s the inactivity, so it’s being written up as going to work for eight hours, but if you were sitting on your sofa for eight hours it’s obviously the same thing?
Yes. Now, I mean, what we found in our research was basically that if you are physically active for an hour a day, at least an hour a day, such as walking or bicycling you could offset the risk of prolonged sitting, or sitting for more than eight hours. That was the main finding of our study.
OK, there are also fashions at the moment for people to raise their desks and stand, does that undo some of the problems?
I don’t think there is much evidence for that. I think there is strong evidence that you should break up your sitting time by doing activity. I mean, I think it’s actually okay to just take a short walk to go and get some coffee at the coffee machine or something similar, but just standing up may not be associated with any improved health.
OK, so you’re not necessarily talking about head out for an hour, brisk fast walk or a cycle, you can break up this hour by lots of walks to the kitchen?
You can do that, but I would also recommend trying to engineer physical activity into your everyday life and using the stairs rather than the escalators or the lift.
So there are, and that will make a huge difference from the sounds of this?
It will make a difference. I mean, we know that on the population level if we could increase physical activity by 10 to 20 minutes we would have a very much reduced risk of many chronic diseases and also premature mortality.
I thought you were going to say that you couldn’t compare it to smoking, but the idea that they are comparable is extraordinary, isn’t it, because one you’re obviously taking in carcinogens, pollutants, a whole series of bad things, the other you’re just sitting?
Yes, but I mean the number of deaths attributable to physical inactivity which we published in the first Lancet series four years ago is more than five million people globally, and that is very comparable to the number of deaths from smoking.
So all it takes is a bit of activity and that will make the significant difference, and we should talk about the scale of course, it’s a million people you looked at here, so it’s a…
That’s true, we summarised data from 13 studies including a million people, and I think the public health message is sit less, move more, and the more the better.
1B 2A 3C 4C 5A 6A 7B