2012 Aug 15
August 15, 2012

Lazy at home, stressed at work

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Along The Watchtower

Malaysians are facing health risks for being physically inactive and spending too much time on their job.

IT’S no sweat but we are already tops in one particular global list. In terms of physical inactivity, Malaysia is now ranked the 10th most slothful country in the world and also the laziest in the region.

A World Health Organisation study published in British scientific journal Lancet that assessed physical activity levels of 122 countries (or close to 90% of the world’s population), showed that 61.4% of Malay­sians above 15 are physically inactive.

The study was based on the minimum moderate exercise, like as half an hour of brisk walking, five times a week.

The results, released before the start of the recently concluded 2012 London Olympics, revealed that Malaysians are also the undisputed couch potato champions of Asia.

We are way too lethargic when compared with Bangladesh which has the highest level of activity, with only 4.7 % the population inactive.

In Cambodia, only 11.2% of the people are inactive while for Myanmar it’s 12.7%, Vietnam 15.3%, India 15.6%, Thailand 19.2%, the Philippines 23.7%, Indonesia 29.8% and China 31%. For some unexplained reason, Singapore was not ranked.

The sluggish countries beneath us are United Arab Emirates (62.5%), Olympic hosts Britain (63.3%), Kuwait (64%), Micronesia (66.3%), Argentina (68.3%), Serbia (68.3%), Saudi Arabia (68.8%) and Swaziland (69%).

The tiny Mediterranean nation of Malta was judged the worst with 71.9% of its 400,000 population deemed inactive.

The United States, which won the most number of medals in the Olympics, was at the 46th spot, no thanks to 41% of its inactive folks.

Bankrupt Greece, often derided for its purportedly “idle” people, was found to have one of the lowest levels of inactivity at 16%.

The researchers, led by Dr Pedro Hallal from Brazil’s Federal University of Pelotas, raised the alarm that the lack of exercise was now causing as many deaths as smoking.

They said the problem should be treated as a pandemic and urged governments to look at ways to make physical activity more convenient, affordable and safer.

In Malaysia, Health Ministry statistics have confirmed that 15% in the country are obese and almost one in two adults is either overweight or obese. I confess, me too.

The data is indeed daunting when it comes to physical lethargy but we are certainly not indolent when it comes to work.

Last year, a global survey found that almost half of employed Malaysians worked more than eight hours a day and also frequently took their work back home to finish.

The survey by Regus, a company specialising in flexible workplaces for businesses, collected the views of more than 12,000 business leaders in 85 countries.

Its results showed that 32% of Malaysian workers and 38% of global workers usually worked between nine and 11 hours a day.

But it found that 15% of Malaysians regularly worked more than 11 hours a day, compared with the global average of 10 hours.

Irrespective of whether it’s because of diligence, poor productivity or lousy time management, working for long hours is bad for both mental and physical health.

A recent study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) and London’s Queen Mary University of London found that working late repeatedly can increase one’s risk of suffering depression.

Researchers found that those who work 11 hours or more each day were more than twice likely to experience depression than those who stick to eight-hour workdays.

The five-year study was based on more than 2,000 white-collar workers, none of whom had any history of depression when they signed up for it.

An earlier survey by the researchers, using the same database of workers, found that overtime work was linked with a 60% rise in coronary heart disease.

Apparently, the stress from overworking also leads to early ageing and the illnesses that come with it.

Another study by the FIOH, involving measurements on the length of DNA sections – called telomeres – discovered the link between ageing and occupational stress. It found that the telomeres were shorter in people with higher job stress.

Telomeres have been compared with aiglets – the tips on shoelaces – because they prevent the ends of chromosomes from fraying and sticking to each other, resulting in the body’s genetic information to go haywire.

Each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter and when they get too short, the cell can no longer divide and becomes inactive or dies. The process is associated with ageing, cancer and a higher risk of death.

The FIOH researchers looked at blood cells called leukocytes which are critical for immune function and found that workers who experienced severe exhaustion from job stress had significantly shorter telomeres.

The study determined that these workers could face the diseases of ageing – Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer – sooner than they might otherwise.

In Malaysia, the stress from work and long hours is best exemplified by the death of a doctor at the Kajang Hospital earlier this year.

The 29-year-old houseman was found dead in a restroom of the paediatric ward with a used syringe beside him.

His death came in the wake of reports that trainee doctors were being overworked, bullied by seniors and suffering from depression.

But such work pressure occurs everywhere and every industry, as noted by Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Maznah Mazlan, who also chairs the National Council of Occupational Safety and Health.

We shouldn’t wait for the next suicide to treat long working hours and job-related stress as serious issues to be tackled.

It’s ironic but Malaysians are facing health risks for being inactive at home and spending too much time on work.

> Associate editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this observation by French author Jules Renard: Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired. –M. VEERA PANDIYAN, http://thestar.com.my