The first step to an active lifestyle is to move throughout the day.
Exercise protects against chronic disease and premature death.
Conversely being sedentary, increases the risk against these same diseases and is itself associated with premature death.
It has been estimated that prolonged sitting is responsible for 3.8% of deaths and that every hour of sitting is as harmful as the benefit from twenty minutes of exercise.
A recent meta-study of over 1 million people demonstrated that it takes large volumes (60-75 minutes per day) of moderate to vigorous exercise to offset the risk of prolonged sitting. Even at this level of activity, some risk remains.
The highest risk group is people who spend more than eight waking hours sitting and do not exercise.
The lowest risk group spend less than 4 hours being sedentary and exercise 150 minutes or more per week.
Prolonged sitting carries increased risk for both men and women across
Simply put, prolonged sitting is very damaging to your health and cannot be offset by exercising alone.
Unfortunately, sedentary behaviour is an epidemic in modern life.
In Canada, a review across all occupations showed that all workers spent a high proportion (65% to 73%) of their day being sedentary.
How is all this sitting damaging our health?
There are at least three mechanisms that drive the health risk of being sedentary:
A striking demonstration of how quickly this happens was a Danish study where healthy young men were instructed to limit their daily steps to less than 1500 per day. After just two weeks, they developed:
Combatting this sedentary behaviour through regular intervals of physical activity can significantly reduce these risks and provide health benefits.
A multi-year analysis of 4757 people demonstrated that breaking up sitting with short breaks decreased waist circumference, reduced inflammation marker and improved blood glucose.
Sitting is not the only sedentary behaviour!
While we have focused on sitting, remember that lying and reclining are also sedentary behaviours.
Even standing is better - studies show that it uses about 8-10% more energy than sitting.
Moving every hour for a few minutes is optimal to gain the health benefits from exercise. Make sure to develop a few strategies that you can implement to increase your physical activity throughout the day.
What are some ways that I can incorporate movement into my busy life?
Start by choosing one or two behaviours that resonate with you, or perhaps create your own. Aim to increase your heart rate/breathing and muscle activity for 2-5 minutes every hour.
Making the Change
It takes effort to implement a new behaviour, and it will not happen unless you plan for it. Take a moment and consider where, when, and how you will implement this physical activity into your day. Consider the barriers to these behaviours and how you will accommodate or overcome them.
You are planning to walk around your floor three times every hour at work.
Barrier 1: Getting busy with work and being “in the zone,” forgetting about it
Solution 1: Setting an alarm or timer for every hour and putting the break in your schedule
Barrier 2: Getting caught in a long, sedentary meeting
Solution 2: Walking during potential breaks, pacing around the room or standing if possible, making sure to move before and after the meeting
Planning for success is an essential step in changing your behaviours, and setting SMART goals is critical.
Sometimes I just don’t have time.
The reality is, you will have time to be healthy if you make time to be healthy.
At moments (especially at work), tasks can be overwhelming, and time can feel restricted. Often the last thing you want to do when this happens is get up and move because you just want to finish up what you’re doing.
Taking a 2-minute break from 58 minutes of steady work is not a huge time commitment. This short break is almost certainly going to improve your performance of the task, as physical activity is an excellent avenue for mental clarity.
If you have found that breaks and distractions have impeded your productivity in the past, perhaps physical activity breaks will have a different effect. If not right away, then give it some time. Your body will get used to it and will thank you in the long run.
Moving throughout the day is the vital first step of living a healthy and active lifestyle. If you need help changing your behaviours, Wellness Garage is here for you.
Need help applying this to your busy life?
Get a personalized fitness plan to help you get started, progress or improve your enjoyment of physical activity
The TARGET Fitness Plan gives you expert advice to transform your exercise habits - whether you are getting started or want to improve your current program. Our exercise physiologist will assess what you are currently doing and provide you with a personalized fitness plan based on the LEVEL Up Your Fitness Strategy.
Dr. Brendan Byrne