Inactivity, particularly regular daily sitting has long been linked to poor health. The latest study that sheds more light on the problem has shown that the middle aged are spending more time sitting per day than retired people, who were previously thought to be the most sedentary age group.
The study, 2012-2014 Scottish Health Survey, drew data from more than 14000 people in Scotland. It found that 45-54-year old men spend on average 7.8 hours per weekday sitting down compared to 7.4 hours for the over 75s. Sedentary work was the main reason for this inactivity.
Such inactivity increases the risk of the individual developing morbidity such as type II or non-insulin dependent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, joint problems and some cancers. It also increases the chances of an early death.
Being physically active at other times does not off-set the risk described above. It is recommended that anybody with such a sedentary occupation engineers movement into their working habits. This could be walking up and down the stairs once every hour, walking outside for lunch, taking time to stand up and stretch/move one’s joints through range – 30 seconds every 30 minutes, conducting a meeting standing or walking or walking over to a colleague to speak to them rather than sending an electronic message.
Once I was delighted to see two of my previous bosses conduct a non-confidential meeting one whilst pedalling on an exercise bike and one whilst walking on a treadmill. Of course, not everyone has access to such equipment in the workplace but it was a case of the two individuals making the best use of what was available.
In that role, I was also given an insight to what the study described above details. We tested clients heart rate and rhythm with a First Beat lifestyle monitoring kit. Many of these clients were sedentary workers in the City of London. Many of them exercised strenuously regularly for 6-16 hours a week. However, what was obvious was that this exercise was packaged into bundles either in the early morning, evening or at weekends. During the work-days the clients were so inactive it would have been difficult to determine whether they were sitting or lying down purely from the data.
This pattern of working is cultural. Moving around at work is seen as unusual or an inconvenience when in fact it is vital to a health life and to a long life.
Tessa Strain, the lead researcher of the Scottish Health Survey is quoted as saying, ‘Large parts of the population are dangerously sedentary, something we have underestimated. We need to tackle high levels of sedentary time in early and middle age, when patterns may develop. Our findings suggest that changing habits in the workplace could be an appropriate place to start given how much time we spend sitting there every day’.
The mantra I suggest we all adopt is, ‘Move, move, move!’ Humans have spent millions of years evolving a body for movement. Its healthy function is inextricably linked to movement. It’s time we all started to ‘Move, move, move!’