The negative health outcomes of prolonged sitting have been known for years. Recent accelerometer-based research evidence suggests that a daily sedentary time of over 9.5 hours is associated with a significant increase in premature mortality risk (Ekelund et al., 2019).
As media has continuously promoted negative health outcomes of sitting with grim titles, such as “Sedentary work kills, even if you are physically active during leisure time” (Yle, 2015), many sedentary employees might have gotten concerned about their health. If the job tasks do not allow to break the sedentary time, and the office does not offer electric tables, is there anything one can do to mitigate the risk?
Walking can tackle the dangers of sitting
In contrast to the previously mentioned news title and many outdated expert opinions, recent research evidence suggests that an adequate amount of physical activity can tackle the negative health outcomes of prolonged sitting. Although the amount of sedentary time would remain high, a meta-analysis, published in the highly appreciated British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggests that the increased risk of premature mortality can attenuate to normal level by walking 30 to 40 minutes daily (Ekelund et al., 2020).
Furthermore, it has been estimated that if the whole US population would walk 10 minutes more every day, over 100 000 premature deaths would be prevented annually (Saint-Maurice et al., 2022). Although these numbers are only approximate, they strongly suggest that there is still hope left for the sedentary employees who are physically active outside of their working hours.
Walk to work – live longer?
An average walking pace of an adult is approximately five kilometres per hour (Levine & Norenzayan, 1999). A commuting distance of two kilometres can be arguably travelled by walking during every season of the year. One-way commuting distance of one kilometre would accumulate approximately 25 minutes of daily walking, and two kilometres would lead to 50 minutes of pedestrian activities.
When these numbers are compared to the ones in the previous chapter, one can calculate that physically inactive employees can significantly decrease their increased risk of premature death by starting to walk a commuting distance of 1–2 kilometres twice every day, even if the job tasks would remain sedentary. Walking shorter commuting distances, or combining it with public transport usage, would be beneficial as well since shorter bouts of physical activity are also associated with positive health outcomes (Jakicic et al., 2019).
Promotion of active commuting starts from the environment
The promotion of active commuting by built environment can occur in three different scales: the macroscale, mesoscale, and microscale (Young et al., 2020). The aim of the macrocycle interventions is to place different types of important destinations (e.g., schools and workplaces) within walking or cycling distance. At the mesoscale, the quality (e.g., flat road surfaces, adequate lane width), quantity (city-wide walk and cycle-lane network), and safety (e.g., streetlights, maintenance during winter, automatic traffic lights, crossroad visibility) of the walking and cycling routes are highlighted.
For example, majority of Finnish cities do not do adequate amount of winter-time cycle-lane maintenance, which could explain the decrease of cycling activity among the youth during the coldest months of the year (Fiksusti kouluun, 2022; Kallio et al., 2016). The microscale solutions include school, workplace, and city-specific solutions, such as promotion of walking activities and anti-theft bike stands. For ensuring the best possible outcomes, the promotion of active commuting among population should be designed and developed in multidisciplinary teams (Young et al., 2020).
Due to a year-round engagement in health-enhancing physical activity, active commuting can become one of the key solutions in improving population health and tackling the global pandemic of physical inactivity (Shephard, 2008). In addition to its numerous positive health outcomes for an individual, the climate and society will benefit as well.
Ekelund, U., Tarp, J., Fagerland, M., Johannessen, J., Hansen, B., Jefferis, B., Whincup, P., Diaz, K., Hooker, S., Howard, V., Chernofsky, A., Larson, M., Spartano, N., Vasan, R., Dohrn, I., Hagströmer, M., Edwardson, C., Yates, T., Shiroma, E., Dempsey, P., Wijndaele, K., Anderssen, S. & Lee, I., 2020. Joint associations of accelerometer-measured physical activity and sedentary time with all-cause mortality: a harmonised meta-analysis in more than 44 000 middle-aged and older individuals. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(24), pp.1499-1506. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2020-103270
Ekelund, U., Tarp, J., Steene-Johannessen, J., Hansen, B., Jefferis, B., Fagerland, M., Whincup, P., Diaz, K., Hooker, S., Chernofsky, A., Larson, M., Spartano, N., Vasan, R., Dohrn, I., Hagströmer, M., Edwardson, C., Yates, T., Shiroma, E., Anderssen, S. & Lee, I., 2019. Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time and all-cause mortality: systematic review and harmonised meta-analysis. BMJ, 366, p.l4570. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4570
Fiksusti kouluun, 2022. Vinkit päättäjille: Liikenneturvallisuus ja talvikunnossapito. [online] Available at: https://fiksustikouluun.fi/vinkit-paattajille-liikenneturvallisuus-ja-talvikunnossapito/ [Accessed 16 March 2022].
Jakicic, J., Kraus, W., Powell, K., Campbell, W., Janz, K., Troiano, R., Sprow, K., Torres, A. & Piercy, K., 2019. Association between Bout Duration of Physical Activity and Health: Systematic Review. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 51(6), pp.1213-1219. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001933
Kallio, J., Turpeinen, S., Hakonen, H. & Tammelin, T., 2016. Active commuting to school in Finland, the potential for physical activity increase in different seasons. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 75(1), p.33319. https://doi.org/10.3402/ijch.v75.33319
Levine, R. & Norenzayan, A., 1999. The Pace of Life in 31 Countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 30(2), pp.178-205. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022022199030002003
Saint-Maurice, P., Graubard, B., Troiano, R., Berrigan, D., Galuska, D., Fulton, J. & Matthews, C., 2022. Estimated Number of Deaths Prevented Through Increased Physical Activity Among US Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 182(3), p.349-352. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.7755
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