A pump class, a gym workout, two walks by the beach and you have got your health and fitness covered right? Not necessarily so.
Many Australians may meet the base health guidelines of accumulating 150 minutes of physical activity per week. However, many modern day jobs such as retail, call centre, transport, machinery and other office based work involve long periods of sitting – sometimes up to 76% of the day, says the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Research is increasingly showing that even if you achieve the recommended amount of weekly exercise, it cannot reverse the negative health effects of 8 plus hours per day sitting down. What is even more alarming is that this research does not take account of people’s out of work time. The total amount of hours spent sedentary would be much higher if we included, travel to and from work, meal times, TV viewing, reading and sleeping... and the long-term health picture far more grim.
Exactly how serious is this issue? The National Heart Foundation estimates that long periods of sitting increase the risk of heart disease by 50%. Exercise Physiologist Sandy Sher states that the increasing shift to a ‘sitting life’ is the reason for escalating modern day diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In fact, for the first time ever the Government has seen fit to make a distinction in it’s Physical Activity Guidelines between physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle – physical activity is the time you spend exercising, sedentary lifestyle is how you characterise the majority of your time outside of this.
Everyone – including personal trainers, need to adjust to a ‘whole day’ approach to health and fitness. Great! Lots of people are getting out and exercising, but we need to tackle the other hours in the day – most notably in the work place. It is probably not feasible to change jobs. As modern society embraces more and more technology and gadgets of convenience, the likelihood is that more, not less, jobs will become sedentary. We must identify ways to break up the sit marathon of the average day.
Step one is to look at ways you can change your daily behaviour. Walking instead of driving or catching public transport to get to and from places. Fit in a lunchtime workout or walk. Always take stairs instead of lifts and escalators. Go and speak to a colleague in person instead of phoning or emailing them. Stand up when you make phone calls. Have standing or walking meetings. Place the bin on the other side of the office. Eat lunch away from your desk. Offer to do the coffee run. Drink more water to increase trips to the bathroom. The secret is to move.
If this all sounds silly, take note. Studies show standing for 30 minute bouts can lower blood sugar levels by up to 11% compared to a day spent sitting. Introduction of sit to stand work stations at innovative companies (and schools) have reduced sitting time by up to 25% – that equals 2 hours in an 8 hour work day and amounts to a host of health benefits says Dr Stamatakis.
Step two is to stretch regularly throughout the day. Sandy Sher suggests setting a calendar reminder to remind you to move and stretch every 30-40 minutes.
If you are ready for Step three, Occupational Therapist Kathryn Frame recommends performing some squats and lunges during the day. These movements target large muscle group,s taking the joints through a full range of motion and improving circulation. Add some wall or desk push ups and you have got the muscles of your upper half moving too. This will help counteract the upper body weakness that is often present in office workers.
Never has the saying ‘small changes can make a big difference’ been more true. Gym membership and participation in physical activity has never been higher. It is the loss of incidental activity in the many other hours of the day that is having a profoundly negative affect on our health and needs changing for us to enjoy a healthier future.