Research shows that about half of UK employees spend most working days on their feet, yet office workers sit for, on average, 10 hours every day. Excessive and prolonged sitting can lead to increased risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, mental health problems, some cancers and backache.
The On Your Feet Britain challenge (onyourfeetday.com) dares people to convert sitting time to standing time, in particular, on Friday 27 April, to see how much people can reduce sitting time in their day.
Although sitting all day isn’t healthy, standing for long periods isn’t healthy either because of the constant strain on the lower limbs.
Potential health problems include aching muscles, swollen legs and ankles, circulatory problems, pressure on the hip, knee and ankle joints and damaged feet. This is most likely to affect retail staff (and the pharmacy team), assembly-line workers, security staff, engineers, catering staff, library assistants, hair stylists and laboratory technicians.
According to the Department of Health, long periods of sitting should be broken up with active breaks of at least one or two minutes every half an hour. Therefore, it’s important that people get their sitting-standing balance right, as well as improve their activity levels overall.
GSK’s Global Pain Index study 2017, commissioned by Voltarol, found that the top reasons why people aged 35 to 55 struggle to stay active are tiredness and lack of motivation, lifestyle changes, preferring to stay in or socialise and being too injury conscious and cost conscious.
“Pain is the largest OTC category worth £542 million,” says Charlotte Perry, Voltarol brand manager at GSK. “There’s a big opportunity for incremental sales for pharmacists in the category by providing further education and understanding for shoppers, aided by the Global Pain Index. Pharmacists have an important role in advising their customers about pain management and have a real opportunity to influence decision-making in-store with product recommendations.”
According to the Health & Safety Executive, there were 194,000 work-related lower back pain cases in the UK in 2016 to 2017. More than half occurred from manual work, but five per cent were from keyboard or repetitive movement activities and 25 per cent from awkward or tiring positions. The Mentholatum Company recently launched Mind Your Back, a multimedia campaign to help people take care of their backs. The campaign came as a response to the increasing incidence of back pain, often caused by the greater amount of time people spend sitting, which weakens the back muscles.
“Our backs are designed to move, not to stay in one position for long periods,” says Jillian Watt, director of marketing/NPD at Mentholatum, and a qualified Pilates teacher. “So we have devised five simple STEPS to help people look after their backs so they can sit, stand, lie and move more comfortably. STEPS stands for stretch, therapy, exercise, posture and strengthen – five elements that can help improve back mobility, strength and stability.”
Fitness expert Lucy Arnold says office workers should make sure their workspace is set up in a way that’s right for them, including their desk and chair. “People are all different heights,” she says. “They don’t want to get neck ache from staring at a computer all day. Moving around and not staying in one position is very important, and learning more about posture and how to sit correctly is also a great thing to do.”
According to Louise Padmore, co-founder of Work Well Being, which creates and delivers programmes and experiences to encourage healthy working practices, sitting at a desk for long periods of time results in stagnation of bodies and minds. “A recent study in the Annals Of Internal Medicine recommended that you should get up and move away from your desk every 30 minutes to minimise negative health impacts,” she says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean taking off for an extended stroll outdoors every 30 minutes. It could be as simple as a walk to the kitchen to top up your water, or walking over to chat with a colleague instead of emailing them. And where possible, lunch breaks should be just that – an opportunity to step away from the desk and take some time outdoors.”
Using technology means office workers are often looking down all day and may slump in their chairs, which can affect their neck, shoulder and back muscles, so it’s important that they make time to move while they’re working, not just during breaks. Ms Arnold recommends a mixture of sitting and standing. “Sit-stand desks are fantastic,” she says. “These encourage people to alternate between sitting and standing so they don’t get used to one position. I think it’s really important that if you spend a lot of time in one spot that your work desk and chair are assessed properly, so in the long run you aren’t hurting yourself. Most workplaces now offer a workplace assessment and sit-stand desks are becoming more and more popular.”
Ms Perry suggests that if customers who are used to being sedentary want to get fitter, they take it slowly and ease in gently. “Exercise is good for physical and mental health, but it’s important to listen to your body,” she says. “The more the body moves, the easier it becomes. It is important to remember that a little aching afterwards is normal. Ideally, people should work with physiotherapists and gym instructors to build up exercise gradually, as well as taking time to warm up and down, especially if they are new to exercise. If they just want to get more active generally, they should stand up every hour and move around their office, as well as holding standing or walking meetings for 15 minutes or so and walking at lunchtime.”
Frontline pharmacy staff may be on their feet for much of the day, while pharmacists may find themselves sitting at a computer for longer periods. All members of the team should make sure they can take regular work breaks. “If pharmacy staff are behind a computer, they should move regularly and have a proper stretch twice a day,” says Ms Perry. “If they are standing or sitting for long periods, they can wear support hosiery to improve their circulation.”
Pharmacy teams can advise customers on good working practices, as well as appropriate products to help with any resulting joint pain and other symptoms. “Self care is important for anyone with joint pain,” says Ms Perry.
Tolu Adams, pharmacist, Day Lewis Camberwell “We’ve had a fair few people discussing New Year’s resolutions, such as those who want to give up smoking or lose some weight. In terms of exercise, simple things like going for a walk or a bike ride regularly can make a difference. It’s just about trying to implement things in your daily routine, such as walking the dog. For someone with joint issues or who is carrying quite a bit of excess weight, swimming can be a good option, as it’s gentle on the joints. If someone wants to exercise, but has concerns about their joints, we can recommend support bandages. It’s about giving advice and signposting people to the right place, rather than an emphasis on selling products. This is a growing area for advice in pharmacy generally, I would say. ”
Sarina Mughal, professional services pharmacist, Day Lewis Plc “All Day Lewis pharmacies are accredited healthy living pharmacies, so we are always recommending ways for patients to become more active – with tips such as taking the stairs instead of the lift and recommending local gyms and health centres. We recommend small lifestyle changes first, such as walking to work, and then maybe doing something with a friend, such as going to an exercise class or working out at home. We have to give people options, because not everyone can afford to spend £60 a month on a gym membership. In Harrods Pharmacy, we sell protein powders and vitamin supplements that can be used in conjunction with exercise, but these must be recommended on a case-by-case basis.”
Thorrun Govind, locum pharmacist, North West England “This is definitely a good topic for MURs: it’s a brilliant opportunity to bring up lifestyle issues, including exercise. It comes down to starting more conversations with patients to encourage them to be more active. I think people are coming to expect that advice from pharmacies as part of the service they receive, particularly with HLP. I always stress the message that slow and steady wins the race for people who haven’t been active in the past. The NHS Choices website Couch to 5k programme is useful, and it’s a bonus if there’s a local gym that we can refer people to. I know some pharmacies and local surgeries have running and walking clubs and things like that, which I think is an excellent idea.”