All that sitting down may put radiologists at risk

It’s not exactly breaking news that radiologists are seated a lot while they work. But according to a recent study published by Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology, all of that sitting could present radiologists with a potential occupational health risk.

“Sedentary behavior, defined as the lack of physical activity, is an increasingly recognized risk factor adversely affecting many of the same health outcomes addressed by exercise recommendations,” David L. Lamar MD, PhD, University of Washington School of Medicine department of radiology, and colleagues wrote.

So should radiologists, who sit a lot throughout their workday, be overly concerned?

Lamar et al. used Fitbit One activity monitors to track the at-work activity levels of residents in radiology, pediatrics and internal medicine (IM) for one week. Time spent commuting was not included in the study.

Overall, the numbers showed that radiology residents took significantly fewer steps per day and per hour than residents in pediatrics and IM.

Diving deeper into the data, Lamar et al. compared residents in a diagnostic radiology reading room-based rotation with residents in an interventional procedures rotation. The numbers showed that residents who weren’t spending large chunks of time in a radiology reading room actually moved around quite frequently compared with their peers.

“We found that residents took more steps per day and per hour and experienced less sedentary time per day and per hour while on interventional procedures rotations,” the authors wrote. “In fact, average interventional radiology activity levels for these residents surpassed the average activity levels of the pediatric and IM residents.”

In addition to the Fitbit One tracking, the authors also sent an anonymous survey out to resident, fellow, and attending radiologists. According to the survey, 78 percent of respondents estimated they sit at least six hours each workday.

So what does this mean? Lamar and colleagues offered some simple solutions for radiologists who fear they may not be active enough.

“Long before major processes must be overhauled to promote wellness, there are easier things a radiologist can do,” the authors wrote. “For example, taking frequent walk breaks, alternating diagnostic and procedural duties when possible, or using a dynamic workstation. Some PACS workstation models can now be electronically adjusted to quickly and conveniently alternate between standing and sitting. Additionally, treadmills and stationary bikes have been used at workstations.”

The authors acknowledged that one limitation of their research may be that they tracked data from just residents, and only from one institution. However, they still feel confident in the relevance of the numbers.

“We have no reason to believe that the work practices of our radiology, pediatric, and IM residents differ significantly from other similar institutions,” the authors wrote. “Additionally, we assume the worklives of trainees and attending radiologists in the specialties we studied allow for similar activity levels although the specific constraints on physical activity may differ.”