Strategies to improve workplace health

 

Next March, Leon Straker will outline the potential hazards associated with excessive sitting and excessive standing and the approach to designing the ideal work balance. 

For more than 20 years, Leon Straker has been delving into the science to find out what’s best for promoting health: sitting or standing. Leon’s research stems from conflicting philosophies on which activity is best for the body in the long term—as too much of one over the other can cause health issues.

‘Designing work that is physically health promoting is an issue,’ says the John Curtin Distinguished Professor from the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University.

‘Sitting versus standing, what is best is the big question. When being “just right”, the activity promotes physical capacity and health, when being “not right”, it impairs health. Yet health professionals and the community are in a dilemma about what is a healthy “just right” balance of sitting and standing.’

He says the debate of sitting versus standing, particularly in the workplace,  can be traced to the 1970s when research highlighted that workers who stood for most of or all of their day developed health issues, such as lower back pain, lower limb discomfort and venous problems.

‘Basically, standing was deemed as not being good for you and this got put into occupational regulations in many countries throughout the world that we must sit more. Fast forward to the last decade and we have realised that too much sitting is a major health hazard because we have developed a sedentary lifestyle.

‘Yet, researchers who have come into this space in the last decade or so don’t have the back history on the health issues associated from standing. So, in promoting that we should be standing a lot, including at work, and not recognising that in shifting people from sitting to standing, they are shifting the problem as we still have health problems.’

With a nod to his clinical background in paediatrics and occupational health, Leon has developed The Goldilocks Principle, which aims at promoting health and physical capacity by designing activity during productive work to be “just right”. He will share his research behind the philosophy at the 2020 Tasmanian Branch Symposium in March next year. In his keynote presentation ‘Too much sitting or too much standing isn’t just right: a Goldilocks work approach to designing work’, Leon will speak about the approach to designing the ideal work balance.

‘The philosophy of the Goldilocks story is that too much or too little of anything is not good, it needs to be just the right amount. Too much sitting is a problem, too much standing is a problem—yet, a bit of sitting is good, as our bodies need to rest and repair.’

With an academic and clinical interest in physiotherapy, ergonomics/human factors and occupational medicine, Leon has worked in the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders for more than 20 years. As a community physiotherapist, he has provided prevention education for adult workers and school children, and was the first ergonomist for the UK National Health Service. His translation of research into policy and practice to enhance health includes the establishment of occupational sedentary behaviour as a work hazard, as recognised by WorkSafe Australia.

Along with teaching research methods and ergonomics, Leon is also scientific director of the multigenerational, longitudinal cohort Raine Study. His research on injury prevention and understanding of how evolving technology has changed the occupational and leisure activity of children and adults has gained international recognition. He says a proactive approach from physiotherapists could minimise the challenge in finding an activity balance despite a high prevalence of technology in modern lives.

‘Technology has changed our physical and mental health. Yet, you cannot just swap standing for sitting or vice versa. Everybody in the population needs to get the balance right between not enough physical activity and the right type and too much. So, in asking questions about the level of physical activity at work and leisure, when patients present with a musculoskeletal issue, physiotherapists can provide an exercise prescription that will get them to think about designing their life,’ he says. ‘This is really important, because a lot of things physiotherapists see people for isn’t going to kill them, such as a niggling knee, but what will is if they don’t do enough physical activity and further problems develop.’

The 2020 Tasmanian Branch Symposium will be held on 14 March at Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, Hobart. For more information and to register, visit australian.physio/events.

Leon Straker has held two national Health and Medical Research Council Senior Research Fellowships. He has delivered 33 international or national keynote addresses and his 270 peer-reviewed journal papers have been cited more than 11,000 times.
 

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