by Ruth D’Alessandro
The link between sitting and illness was made in the 1950s by Professor Jeremy Morris who found that the physically active London bus conductors had a lower incidence of coronary heart disease than the sedentary bus drivers.
With our lives spent sitting at desks, in front of screens, on sofas and pretty much anything we want being delivered to our doors, we’ve become sedentary. Excessive sitting is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and premature death.
Stuart Biddle, Professor of Physical Activity and Health at USQ says: ‘The very common working environment these days is to be sitting down and to be not at all physically active, and that compares very dramatically with what we did many decades ago when we moved in our jobs, and the health consequences of that are pretty dramatic.’
So how can we sit less and move more, particularly at work? Here are our 10 tips:
1. Do a 'getting to work' workout
Treat your daily journey to work as an opportunity to move more. Ideally, walk or cycle, but most of us use public transport or drive. Stand on the bus or train rather than taking a seat and get off a few stops early to walk the rest of the way. If you drive, park a distance from your workplace and walk. And make use of the free treadmills available at most stations – the stairs and escalator!
2. Stand up every 30 minutes
The Department of Health’s paper Sedentary Behaviour and Obesity advises us to ‘take an active break from sitting every 30 minutes’. Set a phone reminder to get up and move every half an hour: take a coffee break, nip to the loo, go and talk to a colleague rather than emailing them, or just walk up and down the stairs.
3. Schedule regular physical activity breaks
You schedule everything else into your busy day, why not ten minutes for exercise mid-morning and mid-afternoon? Use the time to walk to another department, run an errand or make a phone call during which you can stand and do some stretching exercises. Professor Biddle stresses it’s important to ‘take little breaks so you’re more alert when you come back to work.’
4. Ramble on your lunch break
Clear your head and get some exercise by going for a brisk walk at lunchtime; there’s probably an office dog somewhere who’d love to join you for walkies. You could organise an office walking group to encourage each other to leave your desks and get moving.
5. Change meeting styles
Hours spent sitting around a boardroom table are doing nobody’s health any good. Research shows that walking has a positive effect on creative thinking and wellbeing, so have some of your meetings on the hoof. Stand-up meetings (being mindful of wheelchair-using or disabled colleagues) tend to be 34% shorter than sit-down meetings - and produce no worse decisions. And if you ever have the opportunity to use a conference bike for a meeting, embrace its potential for exercise and creativity.
6. Forget the traditional desk and chair
What do Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Philip Roth, and Ernest Hemingway all have in common? They wrote standing up apparently! Follow the example of these creative titans and elevate your laptop on an adjustable desk or simply a box to work standing up. Professor Biddle agrees: ‘a good example is to use one of these elevated desks so you can stand. You may be moving a bit more but you’re continuing to work.’ If you must sit, ditch the creaky chair and sit on an exercise ball – the small movements you use to stay on it give you a mini abdominal workout.
7. Build some stretching exercises into your day
Learn some yoga or Pilates stretches for shoulders, legs and abs that you can do in moments of downtime: waiting for the kettle to boil, at your desk during a conference call or standing after you’ve finished a piece of work. Professor Biddle is unequivocal: ‘The bottom line is we do need to move more and sit less at work for health’.
8. Make TV time the solution, not the problem
A Japanese study found that ‘prolonged television viewing was associated with an increased risk of pulmonary embolism death’. Instead, make your television time work for you. Resist the temptation to fast forward through the ads or go straight onto the next episode of Orange Is The New Black and instead, whizz round and do a chore: cleaning the bathroom, folding clothes, emptying the dishwasher or putting out the recycling can all be achieved in five minutes. You could even watch your favourite TV programme while on an exercise bike, ironing, or preparing dinner.
9. Do a housework workout
Who says housework must be done on one day? Instead of one concentrated weekly sweep, do one room or chore each day and treat it as a daily 15-min workout: put on some energetic music to up your pulse rate and really go for it. There are plenty of videos online to give you inspiration.
10. Switch to manual
Tempting as it is to opt for grocery deliveries, online shopping and sitting in an automatic car wash, you can build extra movement into the day by walking to the shops and cleaning the car yourself - and you may save money at the same time.Professor Biddle’s sage advice is simple: ‘even though 30 or more minutes a day of exercise are extremely important for health and well-being, don’t forget to sit less and move more throughout the day. Look for opportunities to be active: climb stairs, walk and talk, ditch the car where possible’.
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