Are You Sitting (too) Comfortably?

This guest blog was written by Karen Ambrose of the Karen Ambrose McTimoney Chiropractic practice.

 

According to some research that I read about towards the end of last year, people who work in offices are thought to be ‘dangerously sedentary’, sitting more than people over the age of 75.

Some experts say that sitting down is as bad for us as smoking, while others tell us that standing up too much is also bad. So how much sitting is too much, and what are the alternatives? What should we do to stay healthy and mobile?

What’s so bad about sitting?

You might think that sitting for too long is bad for your muscles and posture, and this is true. Sitting puts a strain on your back, hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thighs), neck and shoulders. It also causes the gluteal muscles in your bottom to wither, especially if you slouch in your chair.

However, scientists are also worried about what happens inside your body when you sit for too long. After 90 minutes of sitting, your metabolism dramatically winds down and cells aren’t operating at a high enough level to keep your system ‘oiled’. It has been likened to turning off your heating in the summer. When you turn it back on again as the evenings get cooler in the autumn, you worry about the system creaking, or corrosion in unused pipes causing leaks. It’s the same when you sit for a long time – your ‘system’ is essentially turned off. This affects every structure in your body, from brain function to blood flow. After just an hour of sitting, your arteries’ ability to expand is impaired by 50%. This is one of the earliest markers for heart disease and strokes, along with high blood pressure. If you spend a long time sitting, your insulin levels can also be high, which means that you are at higher risk of diabetes.

You don’t even have to be overweight to be at risk, although it makes it worse. A study of older women found that sitting for more than 10 hours a day meant their bodies were biologically eight years older!

You might not have heard of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, but it plays a crucial role in breaking down fats and sugars in your body and sending them to your muscles to be burned off. Your body can’t produce it while you’re sitting down because you’re not using your muscles. Just standing up is enough to activate it.

German researchers have also shown that the risks of some cancers – bowel, womb lining and lung – increases with every two hours that you spend in a chair.

How much is too much?

The research being carried out into the effects of sitting for too long are in their early stages, but what has already been seen is that the problems start to show themselves if you sit for more than 60-70% of your working hours. So if you sit for more than seven hours a day in total, you will be harming yourself. There is a scaling down effect if you sit for less time.

A report by Public Health England concluded that office workers should be on their feet for a minimum of two hours a day. An Edinburgh University study revealed that middle-aged office workers sat for 7.8 hours a day, which compared to 7.4 hours for people over the age of 75, which researchers say is far too much. They also recommend that you shouldn’t sit for more than an hour at a time. Standing up is enough to engage your muscles just enough to activate your whole system – your brain, your metabolism, your nervous system. Because you’re on your feet, you are more likely to be doing some light movement too. So before you read on – get up and move around or make yourself a cup of coffee before you come back to read the rest of this!

What about standing up?

So does this mean that you should spend more time standing up, instead of sitting at your desk? Not necessarily. Studies into sedentary behaviour shows that people assume they’re being told to stand up all the time rather than sit down. But that’s bad for you too as it brings with it a danger of varicose veins and feet and joint pain.

What’s important is getting a balance between sitting, standing and moving through your day. ‘Binge sitting’ for hours on end is very bad for you and must be broken up. You could invest in a desk that moves up and down, depending on whether you want to work sitting down or standing up. Or you could take regular breaks and go for a short walk. Other leading researchers recommend that in every hour, you should spend no more than 40 minutes sitting down, 15 minutes standing up and 5 minutes moving around. It’s not always possible to do this, but what’s important is to have a go and be aware of how much time you spend sitting. Going for a brisk walk at lunch time will certainly help. You can also change the way that you work, so instead of emailing a colleague, get up, walk across the office and speak to them.

If you find yourself sitting in front of the TV for hours at the end of the day, try getting up during the ad breaks and putting the remote control out of reach so that you have to move. Balancing (carefully) on first one leg and then the other while you’re doing the washing up is a way of stretching and moving more. See how creative you can be with this!

I’m lucky in my job in that I don’t spend much time sitting down. I’m on the move all the time that I am treating each patient. I notice a big difference in my energy levels and muscle stiffness when I have an admin day at my computer, so I make sure that I keep moving – even if it’s just to get up, stretch and make a cup of tea. If you have any stiffness that won’t go away, don’t let it get worse – come and see me and we’ll talk about what treatment will help.

The Karen Ambrose practice is based in Harwell, Oxford. For further information, email Karen@karenambrose.co.uk or telephone 07734 872318.

 

Top Five Employment Law Cases in 2016 (So Far!)

Here are the top five employment law cases of 2016 so far, some of which have fairly far reaching implications.

Commission and holiday pay – Lock and another v British Gas Trading Ltd (No.2) (EAT)

This Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) agreed with the employment tribunal that the Working Time Regulations 1998 can be interpreted to require employers to include a worker’s commission payments in the calculation of his or her holiday pay.

The case went to the Court of Appeal and was heard on 11 July 2016. The Court of Appeal judgment is awaited.

Childcare vouchers during maternity leave – Peninsula Business Services Ltd v Donaldson (EAT)

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) advice has traditionally been that it is unlawful for an employer to make the suspension of childcare vouchers scheme membership during maternity leave a prerequisite of joining.

Official HMRC guidance stated that “non-cash benefits, such as childcare vouchers that can be used only by the employee and are not transferable…must continue to be provided during ordinary maternity leave and additional maternity leave”.

Peninsula’s childcare vouchers scheme was the subject of a legal challenge because its scheme requires employees to agree to suspend their membership during maternity leave.

An employment tribunal decision that Peninsula’s childcare vouchers scheme was discriminatory was overturned by the EAT. The EAT found that employers that make deductions from an employee’s salary in return for childcare vouchers do not have to continue to provide the vouchers during maternity leave.

Monitoring employees’ social media – Barbulescu v Romania (ECHR)

In this Romanian case, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) examined the scope of employees’ right to a private life in relation to social media activity.

An engineer who was dismissed for using Yahoo Messenger to chat with his family, as well as professional contacts, challenged his employer’s actions as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, the ECHR held that the employer’s actions were justified because it was seeking to verify that the employee was using his work computer and social media account for work purposes only.

This case will now go to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber. The hearing is scheduled to take place on 30 November 2016.

Misconduct dismissal for “pulling a sickie” – Metroline West Ltd v Ajaj (EAT)

The EAT affirmed that an employee who makes up, or exaggerates the effects of, an injury or illness to take fraudulent sick leave is fundamentally breaching the implied term of trust and confidence and can be dismissed for misconduct.

This case reiterates for employers that “pulling a sickie” is a misconduct, rather than a capability, issue. This means that a dismissal for fraudulent sick leave must be based on reasonable grounds, following a reasonable investigation.

Reasonable adjustments for disabled people – Carreras v United First Partners Research (EAT)

When considering the duty to make reasonable adjustments, employers need to pay particular attention to disabled workers’ hours of work.

In this case, the disabled employee believed that he was disadvantaged because there was an expectation in his workplace that employees work late, even though there was no strict requirement to do so.

In upholding the reasonable adjustments claim, the EAT held that working late does not have to be presented as an instruction to cause a disadvantage.

In practice, workplaces can put pressure on employees to conform, even if there is no written rule or direct management instruction.

If you think any of these issues could affect your business, do get in touch with us. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

On 18 October 2016 we’ll be running our next Employment Law Update workshop, to bring you right up to speed on any changes that might affect your business. You can book your place online here.

 

Source: XpertHR

Employment Law Changes for Spring 2015

Employment Law is constantly changing. To make sure you stay on the right side of the law, and do the right thing by your employees, here are some of the issues you need to know about.

Shared Parental Leave – this will allow eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed for adoption. Employed mothers will still be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. If she chooses, an eligible mother can end her maternity leave early and, with her partner or the child’s father, opt for Shared Parental Leave instead of Maternity Leave. If they both meet the qualifying requirements, they will need to decide how they want to divide their Shared Parental Leave and Pay entitlement.

Antenatal Rights – from 1 October 2014, the partner of a pregnant woman has been allowed to take unpaid time off work to attend antenatal appointments with her. Partners are allowed time off for up to two antenatal appointments, capped at 6.5 hours per appointment. Confusion might arise because in some cases, the partner might not be the biological father of the child. They could be the mother’s spouse, civil partner, or partner in an enduring relationship. It could also be the parents of a child in a surrogacy arrangement.

Fit for Work – this service helps employees stay in, or return to work. It provides an occupational health assessment and general health and work advice to employees, employers and GPs. It will not replace, but will complement existing occupational health services provided by employers. There will be a phased roll out of the referral service taking place over a period of months during 2015.

Every time a change is made to Employment Law, your Staff Handbook will become out of date. You don’t need to update it every month, but you do need to be aware of the legal changes and how they affect your employees and your business. If your Handbook has not been updated for a couple of years, it’s best to get up to date information on any specific issue, before you take action.

To help keep your business up to date, book your place on our next Employment Law Update Workshop. On 21 May 2015 we’ll be spending the morning at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire, going through the changes. We’ll talk about how they will specifically impact on your business and what you need to be aware of, in order to stay on the right side of the law. Click here to book your place for just £15 +VAT.