With the recent shift to working from home, there has been a tremendous amount of information about how we should take care of ourselves, in particular to sit less, and move more.
Most people understand this – it does not take much to persuade people of the importance of movement.
However, the harder part is implementing the change. When it comes to creating new habits there is always an uncomfortable stage – unfortunately we often believe this stage will last forever; we believe that we’ve picked the wrong thing to start or improve – but this can happen with any change – the key is that is passes.
The other part of creating the change is knowing, or working out, where to start.
One of things that helps at this stage is to find the purpose behind the new habit – where do we want the habit to take us, what do we want to be doing differently, how do we want to be seen differently?
When we really believe in something and its purpose, we find an energy for it. Therefore, when it comes to moving more, the important question is: what do you want out of moving more/your exercise session/run/Pilates class?
Do you want to feel less stressed? Do you want to look toned and healthy? Do you want to be able to play with your children or grandchildren?
Thinking about our purpose in movement and what we will gain from it is a great motivator. When we keep moving, we are doing what we were born to do – we will perform better both physically and mentally.
Whenever we go on a plane to go on holiday, we always hear something like: “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”
Why are we told this? On a plane it’s an important rule for ensuring survival – because if you run out of oxygen yourself, then you won’t be able to help anyone else with theirs.
In our day to day working lives, in order to be able to look after others, (family, friends or work colleagues), we need to look after ourselves first. Creating time to look after ourselves – our physical and mental health – is key to our happiness and wellbeing, and of benefit to others.
We are hearing a great deal about our need to move more – whether that be in a structured form of exercise or just getting up regularly from sitting at a desk, and how movement benefits the physiological functions in our body – it is prolonged inactivity that increases the health risks of heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and bone/joint health.
What exercise and movement also does is to impact positively on our cognitive abilities and mental health. At a time when we need to “feel and be on top of things” exercise and movement can lift our mood – we have our own opiates in the form of endorphins – that help us to feel better.
If you have a responsibility to look after others, in whatever capacity that might be, let go of the guilt and find time to move or exercise regularly; even exercise-snacks during the day will help. There are also numerous studies that show how regular activity improves the time and quality of our sleep.
So, the next time you put off moving to get just one more email sent – don’t – get up and move and know that by putting your oxygen mask on first, you will better be able to help others.
Take a physical break and give yourself a mental boost – diarise a physical break meeting in your working day and go to it as if it were another meeting.
We are all well aware of how fast paced the world of work is and the challenge of wanting to feel that we are on top of it. To do this we can spend hours sitting at our desks, cracking through our “to do lists” in the hope that we will get to the end of it, or at least feel that we are on top of it.
However, hours of sitting will also leave us feeling tired and drained of energy.
We recognise that regular physical activity is key to preventing many of today’s illnesses, but it also helps to boost brain health, improve memory and reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Movement and brain health are inherently interconnected, and research suggests that physical exercise is just as beneficial for the brain as it is for the body by helping new neurons to grow and thrive. The endorphins released during exercise not only help us to feel better – they help us to think better too.
Moving our bodies boosts our brains:
- It can increase brain size through growing new connections and improving the health of the brain connections we already have.
- It can help to prevent memory loss – when we move and improve blood circulation in the brain, it improves our mood, our attention span, our decision making and our problem-solving abilities.
- It also boosts our mood – so when we are feeling tired at the never-ending do-list, movement releases endorphins which result in a boost of energy.
Movement is essential to our brain’s wellness – so next time you’re thinking of skipping your physical break meeting – don’t – keep it in the diary and do it – your brain and body will thank you for it.
Shall I sit or shall I stand?
Well, the answer is to do both.
We are hearing a great deal about the impact of people working from home now and not always in ideal conditions; for example, laptops on the dining room table and sitting on the dining room chair, or possibly working from a sofa or a bed – these are not great workstations, but in many situations they are having to suffice.
Our ancestors of 200,000 years ago were very active – they hunted and scavenged for food and life was very hard for them – we evolved to be physically active when it was necessary and socially rewarding, but otherwise we avoided unnecessary exertion. When we weren’t hunting for food, we did rest and sit, although it was mainly on the ground!
However, these days we don’t have to hunt and search for food and we’ve basically eliminated the connection between moving, hunting, food gathering and survival.
Due to the industrial and technological revolutions we have created the most amazing labour-saving devices. This started in the nineteenth century but has grown at an ever-increasing pace over the last few decades.
The physical work that we used to do has been replaced with desk jobs and our labour-saving devices include non-iron shirts, vacuums that hoover on their own, the personal computer, the smart phone and millions of apps to amuse us, day and night. We can order food to be delivered to our doors through our apps and then eat whilst watching streamed films, eliminating the need to walk to the cinema.
Yet our overall health and wellbeing is dependent on how much we move – some of our most basic physiological functions require our bodies to move. When we move, we use our muscles which are one of the most important components of our body; for example, we would be unable to speak or express our thoughts if we didn’t use our muscles. They take us from simple things like talking and blinking to complex movements like running and lifting.
The problem with our 21st century lives is that we are sitting too much. Research has shown that being inactive will mean that we are more likely to get sick earlier in our lives. Being regularly, physically active helps with our strength, balance, bone mass and cognitive ability.
Returning to the original question – shall I sit, or shall I stand– the answer is to do both, with regular breaks from both, to make sure we alter our posture and use our muscles.
If we are in tune with our bodies, every time we want to fidget (if we have been doing the same thing for some time), this is a clue that our body is really asking us to move more. And we are in control of what that can be – when you do start to move more the beneficial impact is immediate. Find a way to integrate activity into your working day, as doing something is always better than doing nothing.
I don’t believe that we can wait another 2.5 million years until our bodies evolve and adapt to a more sedentary lifestyle.
If we’ve been sitting at a desk for a long time, or relaxing watching a film or TV programme, there are often times when we’ve felt the need to get up and move – and often it will be in the direction of the kitchen where it is easy to find a food snack or drink.
Whilst the steps to the kitchen are beneficial (more and more research is indicating that some movement is better than none – even from the first step) the calories that will be taken on board from the snack will typically not be so beneficial.
The WHO guidelines for exercise recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. For some these figures can be a challenge – but like any significant goal, it’s always better to break it down into smaller chunks.
If we take the 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, this will average out at just under 22 minutes per day – already a much more manageable target.
The concept of exercise snacking is not completely new – it has grown out of the research on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) where people work at high intensity for a burst and then have some active rest time. In the gym these exercise bursts can last from between 30 seconds to four minutes.
Exercise snacking can be shorter than this and is a great way to break up a long day sitting at a desk. If you were to create seven opportunities in a working day to complete an exercise snack, each one would be about 3 minutes – this could be a brisk walk round the garden or round the block, starting or completing a household chore, walking up and down stairs three or four times (great for the glutes by the way), or doing some active stretching along with some star jumps.
The key is that the body is moving – the biggest muscles are in our legs and if we don’t use them for long periods there is a cellular effect that makes our bodies less good at breaking down certain fats; so, whilst the total amount of time a person sits contributes to health risks, it is worse when uninterrupted for long periods of time.
If you think you might forget to get up and move there are many things that can help – from alarms and apps on our phones, the timer on the cooker, and even a screen time app on your computer which will send it to sleep and lock you out for a while.
So next time you feel like reaching for a food snack, think about an exercise snack instead – grab a glass of water and get outside for 3 or 4 minutes – apart from helping your body it will also improve alertness and brain function for your next task.
Give it a go and see what happens, your body will thank you for it.