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Stuck at a desk? For better health, try an "ergobreak" every two hours

Experts on health promotion and occupational health launched Wellness Week 2013 at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) today by highlighting the importance of protecting and promoting health in the workplace, where most adults spend the majority of their waking hours.

Work-related factors have a major impact on health, said Julietta Rodriguez, PAHO/WHO advisor on workers' health. These include the risks of hazardous occupations but also factors associated more with white-collar jobs, such as stress and anxiety, poor posture, visual fatigue, and lack of physical activity. Rodriguez noted that "ergonomic" means "adapting work to the worker" and should include measures to address all these risks to ensure that workers are "happy, satisfied, and motivated and have the proper resources, social networks, adequate information as well as time for leisure and release." A proper "work-life balance" is a big part of the picture when it comes to workers' health, said Rodriguez. "We have to keep work at work and home at home. I know it's not easy, but we need to do it."

Suzie Carmack, a kinesiologist and researcher at George Mason University in Virginia, noted that the trend toward increasing sedentarism, both at home and in the workplace, is having a serious negative impact on health worldwide. Sedentarism is now the fourth-leading risk factor for global mortality, according to WHO estimates, contributing to some 3.2 million deaths each year. Studies show that low levels of physical activity during people's leisure time is a significant predictor of both cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality. Moreover, said Carmack, lack of physical activity also has a negative impact on psychosocial health.

Carmack has developed a health-promotion intervention that helps counteract sedentarism during the workday. She encourages office workers to get up from their desks every two hours to engage in a stretching and moving routine she calls "2-4-6-8." It involves moving the knees and elbows in two different directions, the spine in four directions, drawing the number six with one's knees to rotate the hips, and moving the shoulders in eight directions.

"In as little as two minutes, you can see shifts in hormones that improve your mood," said Carmack. "For as little as 10 minutes per day, you can improve mood and focus, and be happier and healthier. It's an easy intervention to incorporate into one's daily life."