The average office worker in SA spends 70% of their days being sedentary

Sedentary lifestyle, combined with improper sitting posture, can have detrimental effects on both health and back alignment. Picture by Andrea Piacquadio /Pexels

Sedentary lifestyle, combined with improper sitting posture, can have detrimental effects on both health and back alignment. Picture by Andrea Piacquadio /Pexels

Published Aug 10, 2023


South Africa is facing a concerning trend as office workers spend an average of 17 hours each day sitting or lying down. This sedentary lifestyle has been linked to various physical and mental health issues, according to a growing body of evidence.

Experts now consider sedentary behaviour as a significant health hazard, with only high volumes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity offering protection against its harmful effects.

Unfortunately, desk-based office workers are particularly vulnerable to excessive sitting due to the nature of their work.

A study conducted in 2021 on sedentary behaviour in the workplace further supports the notion that prolonged sitting is associated with adverse health outcomes.

In a systematic review involving 794 577 participants, researchers discovered a significant increase in the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cardiovascular disease mortality among individuals who engaged in the highest levels of sedentary behaviour compared with those who were least sedentary.

Gary Arenson, a physiotherapist and founder of Ergotherapy, a company specialising in ergonomic office furniture, warns that this sedentary lifestyle, combined with improper sitting posture, can have detrimental effects on both health and back alignment.

Ergotherapy's NetOne office chair, the first of its kind to be endorsed by the World Federation of Chiropractic, aims to address these concerns.

But what exactly are the sedentary activities that consume the majority of the average South African's time?

Sleeping: A global study reveals that South African adults spend a staggering 9.3 hours sleeping each day.

Commuting: The duration and conditions of travel significantly impact the time it takes for individuals to reach their workplaces. Recent statistics indicate that the average adult spends between 15 and 59 minutes commuting to work each day, excluding any additional travel for other activities such as meetings or picking up children from school.

Working: A concerning 90% of South Africans with desk jobs spend more than 5 hours per day seated, with 65% sitting for more than 7 hours per day.

These findings shed light on the urgent need to address the sedentary lifestyles of South African office workers and promote healthier habits to mitigate the associated health risks.

Furthermore, on average, South Africans spend 2.2 hours per day watching television, according to recent data.

Additionally, a staggering 7.2 million South Africans, accounting for 12% of the population, spend more than 11 hours per week playing video games.

Additionally, 9.02 million individuals (15%) dedicate between 6 and 10 hours per week to gaming, which amounts to at least 51 minutes per day, notes Arenson.

These sedentary activities have serious implications for our health, particularly when it comes to our backs.

Studies indicate that approximately 80% of the South African population has experienced lower back pain at some point in their lives.

To address the root causes of these common sitting injuries rather than just the symptoms, Arenson emphasises the importance of using ergonomic chairs that can be adjusted to fit the user's body.

“As a physiotherapist, I’m well accustomed to seeing clients who have lower back injuries caused from sitting and being sedentary for long periods of time.”

However, not all ergonomic chairs are created equal. He highlights several key features that contribute to an ergonomic experience, including adaptive lumbar support, height-adjustable backrests and armrests, seat depth adjustment for taller individuals, high-quality materials such as non-slip upholstery and breathable mesh, and the ability to recline for breaks from sitting.

Sitting in a chair that doesn't properly support your body frame can have long-term consequences, such as poor blood circulation, pressure on spinal discs, and muscle fatigue due to the shortening of hip flexor muscles.

This can lead to back, neck, and shoulder pain.

According to the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES), only 39.5% of office workers in South Africa meet the recommended physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week.

While finding the right ergonomic chair is crucial for daily comfort and support, it is equally important to incorporate regular movement into our routines.

Engaging in regular exercise and adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of lower back and body injuries.

Just 30 minutes of physical activity per day can alleviate back pain, stiffness, and discomfort. Furthermore, studies have shown that taking regular breaks from sedentary activities can boost productivity, alertness and overall happiness.