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.
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.
Exercise isn’t just something we should do, it’s an essential part of being human.
Why is it so important to keep moving? Because quite simply, it’s what we were designed to do.
We’ve got Stone Age bodies, that were designed to be constantly moving and be used. The trouble is we haven’t got Stone Age minds. We crave an easy, more relaxed life. We’re constantly inventing things so we have less physical activity to do. We have non-iron shirts, we have vacuums that can vacuum on their own. We don’t have to get up to change the temperature, there’s an app for that. We don’t have to walk upstairs to talk to a family member, there’s an app for that.
Our bodies function how they were designed to, 2.5 million years ago and they have served us pretty well until 250 years ago, when the industrial revolution started and we started to spend long hours sitting in factories and offices.
Now we spend long hours sitting at desks and we get achy necks and backs and get stressed from our workload. So, what do we do to counteract this? We try to find comfier chairs to ease the aches and sit in front of the TV or look at our phones, to de-stress.
When what we really need to do is to…MOVE!
Are you sitting comfortably, good, then I’ll…get you to stand up.
I never recommend ergonomic chairs to my clients. Firstly, they’re usually pretty expensive. You won’t save your neck and back by spending an arm and a leg! And secondly, because they’re so comfortable you might get up less. The best thing they can do is simply get up regularly, move around and do a few stretches.
Stress is another throwback to our evolutionary past. Those fight or flight hormones that in the past gave us the adrenalin rush to run away from a sabre-toothed tiger are the same ones that you get when you are stressed about a work deadline. But the more time you spend stressed, the more stress hormones that are created. These then turn into toxins. And what’s the only way to get rid of those toxins – exercise, of course.
And exercise doesn’t just get rid of the negative effects of stress hormones, it also creates happy hormones. Serotonin, a key happy hormone, can be boosted through regular physical activity, especially if you find one that you enjoy. For instance, If you don’t like the idea of jogging, go for a walk instead.
I know it’s a cliché, but the most important thing is your health. There is no point having all the cool new labour-saving gadgets when you can’t focus on them because you’ve got a backache. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having all this new tech, but first and foremost you should be moving more.
Your future is shaped by what you do now
The movement we make or don’t make, really shapes who we are. I’m not talking about weight, but posture and flexibility. You can see it in people when they’re in their 70’s, 80’s and older. I always give the example of the Queen and Prince Philip. Prince Philip is five years older than the Queen, but he stands much straighter (from an active physical life in the navy), whereas the Queen is much more hunched over, having spent so much time sitting at a desk answering correspondence.
Of course, at their age, it is much harder to reverse things. The key is to keep moving and exercising in your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
And it’s not just about feeling more flexible, we also have physiological functions in our body that are movement dependent. Take our immune system. It’s designed to fight disease-causing germs and changes in the body as well as recognising and neutralising harmful substances from the environment. It really does do a great job of looking after us and one of the best ways to boost a healthy immune system (in conjunction with our lymph system) is to move regularly during the day.
If you want to feel healthier and happier as you get older, you’ve got two choices. Wait another 2.5 million years until our bodies evolve to being happy living a more sedentary lifestyle, or exercise and move more.
If you’d like to find out about the kind of exercises I’d recommend for you, get in touch for a free introductory chat.
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