Sitting on your tush for long periods of time at work, on your commute and in front of the TV can play havoc with your health, weight, mobility and mood. The healthy lifestyle message of the 1990s and early 2000s was that we should move more. Now research has discovered that it’s also vital for us to sit less.
Sick of sitting
Even if you have a regular exercise regimen – something that’s still great for your general fitness and wellbeing – sitting for extended periods of time on most days will still put your health at risk. While most of us can think of dozens of ways to be more active in our home lives, how we behave at work can feel out of our control. ‘Office body’ – weight gain and body aches caused by prolonged sitting at a desk – can negatively affect you, but there are lots of clever tweaks you can make to extend your healthy life and enjoy your workday more.
The bad-desk workout
Up to 80 per cent of Australians are affected by back or neck pain, and desk-bound jobs are a huge contributor to this phenomenon. Having to sit all day is a marathon for your muscles, and the stabilising core muscles go as a result. When you don’t recruit your core muscles to hold your torso upright, your body tends to slump and your melon – just like a watermelon, your head weighs about five kilograms – is no longer balanced on top of a stable structure. Your neck and shoulder muscles, in particular, struggle to hold up the mighty fruit.
Get up to feel up!
We know that moderate-to vigorous exercise boosts mood and alleviates depression. The more you sit, the fewer feel-good brain chemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin, are generated and circulating in your body. Although World Health Organisation guidelines recommend adults do a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of daily aerobic activity (such as a lunchtime boxercise class, dance class, spin class, jog or swim), you’ll still experience the same benefits if you do it 10 minutes at a time. How will you get those two or three 10-minute sessions into your working day? Easy!
• Park 10 minutes’ walk from work.
• Get off and on public transport one or two stops short of the office.
• Find a park near work and step up and down on a calf-height wall or bench for 10 minutes.
• Stroll to a slightly more distant venue for lunch.
• Find an empty meeting room and alternate push-ups, squats, tricep dips and lunges.
• Walk to do grocery shopping at lunchtime (a doubly good use of your lunch break!).
• Find a stairwell and, well, you know what to do!
Even in short bursts, more intense activity has been shown to bump up energy production in the body, rather than deplete it – that extra energy improves your focus and mental acuity as well as your physical responsiveness. And, of course, all this increased activity – those 10-minute bursts, frequent standing, even engaging your core – urns more kilojoules than slumping about. The bottom line? A slimmer and healthier you!
Sit and your metabolism sits down, too!
When you sit, your biggest muscles (those in your legs and butt) aren’t firing. As a result, they stop taking up the sugars in your blood, and researchers have now found that over time your muscles become less able to take up the sugars on offer, a condition called insulin resistance. This leads not just to weight gain, but also to a greatly increased risk of contracting diabetes (a seven per cent greater risk for every two hours a day you spend on your backside). We also rely on the movement of major muscles to generate the enzymes that regulate fats (triglycerides) in the blood, and which turn bad cholesterol into good cholesterol. So turning off your muscles – as happens when you’re sitting – becomes a major factor in turning on heart disease.
Fortunately, all you have to do is stand up and take a few steps to get those big muscles firing and set off a chain of positive reactions in your body. These three strategies will have you on your feet every 20 minutes!
• Walk and talk: imagine your jawbone is connected to your thighbone. Every time you talk to someone – on the phone, when they come over to your desk, when you have a meeting – stand up, at the very least. Stroll if you can.
• Stand and read: review documents, do research on a computer tablet and attend presentations on your feet. Also, take a highlighter over to the printer and read and edit documents as they spit out.
• Stay hydrated: drink from a medium-sized water glass at your desk, and refill it frequently at the kitchen tap. This will lead to more trips to the bathroom – take the stairs to loos on another floor if you can.