Your sedentary office job is killing you (unless you cycle there)

sedentary office work

Office workers who sit at a desk for eight hours need to take one hour’s physical activity a day to offset an increased risk of death, according to research by Cambridge University and published in The Lancet.

The research found the risk of dying was 9.9 per cent for those who sat for eight or more hours a day compared with 6.8 per cent for those who sat for less than four hours a day and were active for at least one hour a day. That’s a 45 per cent increased chance of death.

The increased risk of death associated with sitting for eight hours a day was eliminated for those who did at least one hour of physical activity a day. The report found that one hour of gentle cycling at 10 mph was enough to offset the ill effects of sitting for long periods.

sedentary office work

Prof Ulf Ekelund, from the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences and Cambridge University, said: “You don’t need to do sport, you don’t need to go to the gym. It’s OK doing some brisk walking, maybe in the morning, during lunchtime, after dinner in the evening. You can split it up over the day, but you need to do at least one hour.”

“It’s not easy to do one hour of physical activity a day but … the average TV viewing time in adults in the UK today is 3hrs 6mins or something like that, more than three hours,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s too much to ask that just a little bit of those three hours may be devoted to physical activity.”

The full research can be read at thelancet.com/journals

Since long before the popularity of the term post-truth, cyclists have had to listen to alternative facts about the supposed danger of cycling. In the face of the fact that inactivity costs the British economy £1.7bn each year and that air pollution from motorised traffic kills tens of thousands in this country alone annually, it is the those on bicycles that are portrayed as those in danger.

Cycling infrastructure is the nuts and bolts of a bicycle-friendly city. Well-designed roads and frequently-maintained cycling facilities are a joy to use and have been shown to encourage people to embrace life on two wheels. However, when it comes to reasons why people don’t cycle, the absence of good infrastructure pales in comparison to the commonly-held belief that cycling is a hazardous activity.

Alarmist headlines about cycling, so often splashed across newspapers, risk reinforcing the fear that stops people taking to two wheels in the first place. Such articles, in which the tiny statistical risk of being killed on a bicycle is over-played, are self-fulfilling because the greater the number of cyclists on the roads on bicycles, the safer it becomes.

The casualty rate for cyclists is one killed for every 88 million miles travelled; a figure that equates to over 35,000 years of riding for a cyclist riding 10 miles a day. At the same time, office workers who do not do one hour’s physical activity a day have a 45 per cent increased chance of early death.

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Comments

  1. Frank Lee

    Reply

    Yes – the cycle to work and home is the best part of my desk day job!
    But I don’t just commute – I ride three times the distance I could by using quiet roads and cycle paths through woods and parks – on my mountain bike – even during the muddy, cold and wet winter – but I gear up with protection and mega lights!

  2. Tony Williams

    Reply

    I’m having some difficulty because of the information is incomplete. Those who sit for 8 hours have a higher risk of dying than those who sit for less than 4 hours and take exercise. Over what time period, or at what age, does this apply? We all have a 100% risk of dying, eventually. It’s impossible, from the information supplied, to compare the risks associated with cycling with those from sitting at a desk all day. And cycling in some urban areas is probably much more risky than in some others. This strikes me as an example of using a few statistics to make a point seem more convincing than it actually is.

    What I do strongly agree with is Professor Ekelund’s remark that “You don’t need to do sport, you don’t need to go to the gym.” Some people have been brainwashed into believing that the only useful exercise comes from gym membership, whereas you own feet and legs can do you a huge amount of good.

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