Canadian researchers from the Institute for Work and Health (IWH) in Toronto and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences claim that long periods of standing at work may double the risk of developing heart disease. The researchers conducted a 12-year study of 7,300 workers using data from the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey. The workers were between the ages of 35 and 74, and spent 15 hours a week or more at their jobs. None of them had heart disease at the beginning of the study. Of the total number of workers in the study, 37 percent reported that they mostly sat at their jobs while nine percent said they spent most of their time on their feet.
The study began in 2003 and concluded in 2012. During that time, 3.4 percent of the workers in the study developed heart disease. Those workers with jobs involving mostly sitting had a risk for heart disease of 2.8 percent, as compared to a 6.6 percent risk for the workers who mostly stood at work. Adjustments were made for age, education, ethnicity, health conditions and behavior, but the risk ratio did not change. The findings were also consistent between men and women.
Workplace Prevention of Heart Disease
Peter Smith of the IWH was the senior scientist for the study which appeared online in the American Journal of Epidemiology. He explained the reasons why prolonged standing can increase the risk of heart disease saying, “One of them is by blood pooling in your legs and the other is by increased venous pressure in your body by trying to pump that blood back up to your heart and that increases oxidative stress.” He emphasized that attention needs to be given to the role that work plays in the development of cardiovascular disease.
While many are aware that being too sedentary is a health risk, more needs to be done to raise awareness of the dangers of prolonged standing, Smith said. Workers should be given opportunities to sit at work, especially if they are tired. Employers should provide chairs and stools so that workers have a chance to sit from time to time. Jobs that involve only standing can also be rotated. “A combination of sitting, standing, and moving on the job is likely to have the greatest benefits for heart health,” Smith concluded. He hopes the study’s findings about the effects of work on chronic disease and occupational illness can be integrated into disease prevention programs.
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