We are becoming a sedentary society. Sadly this is a fact as most people are now sitting for a large proportion of their day – including children. According to the British Heart Foundation’s latest 2017 report, around 20 million adults in the UK are physically inactive, which means that 39% of adults are failing to meet the government recommendations for physical activity. Broken down into gender-specific and we see that 11.8 million women compared to 8.3 million men are not getting enough exercise or movement in their daily lives.
And it is important to also clarify that it is not just about getting our recommended 30 minutes per day (gym, or running etc), but including much more movement in our daily lives generally. Sedentary behaviour is classified as spending 4 or more hours per day sitting – regardless of whether you have been to the gym or an exercise class for an hour that day. If you are sitting for a large proportion of your day then you have pretty much negated your exercise effort.
The British Heart Foundation estimates that the average man spends 78 days per year sitting and that the average woman spends 74 days sitting. These are shocking statistics. Sedentary behaviour is now ranked amongst the top 10 causes of premature death by the World Health Organisation, with over 5 million deaths worldwide attributed to inactivity.
Unfortunately sedentary behaviour starts early as we spend a huge amount of our time sitting at desks in school, and with Physical Education receiving less funding from the government, children are not even spending much time learning about movement or being physically active. Then they return home to spend further hours sitting doing homework, or watching TV, or playing on phones, ipads, play-station etc.
Daily movement has been shown to have a dramatic effect on improving health by lowering blood pressure, boosting the immune system, improving mood and reducing anxiety, aiding better sleep, reducing risk of certain cancers such as colon, breast and lung cancers, increasing joint strength and flexibility. Recent research also suggests that sitting for prolonged periods of time can slow blood flow to the brain, which can have dramatic results on our long-term brain health. Getting up and moving about for a few minutes every hour may be enough to prevent this decline in blood flow – and could even help to increase it. Blood flow also becomes restricted in other areas of the body, such as the legs, when seated for several hours, leading to a slackening within the many blood vessels.
The Texas A&M Ergonomics Centre carried out a study that showed that children were more engaged and better at solving problem when they were using standing desks, exhibiting “12% greater “on task” focus and significant performance improvements in executive function and working memory capabilities”. Some schools in the United States, Australia and New Zealand have taken this on board and introduced standing desks for pupils which appear to have already had beneficial effects on both learning and behaviour. A primary school in Bradford have become the first school in Europe to take part in a pilot scheme, designed to assess the health and cognitive effects of nine and ten year old pupils over a 7 week period. Improvements have been noted after only 2 weeks.
Some office environments have also begun to offer standing workstations for employees in a bid to help battle the obesity problem.
But what if your office doesn’t have the wherewithall to provide this? There are small adjustments we can all make to our daily lives to include more movement, which will have a big impact on our health and wellbeing.
- Set a timer to go off every 50 minutes so that you leave your desk, get up, walk around and get moving.
- Encourage your co-workers to partake in walking meetings.
- Make your own standing desk (see how I made mine here).
- Walk when you are on the telephone.
- Go for a walk with the family after dinner.
- Get up earlier to have a short walk before breakfast.
- Have your children do their homework standing at the kitchen counter.
- Park the car further away from the office and walk the extra distance.
- Ride a bike to work some days.
- Take a walk at lunch time.
How long do YOU sit each day?
Add some movement in and experience an increase in energy throughout the day – your brain and body will thank you for it!