Sitting is the new smoking, warn doctors, with grave warnings about the effects of spending too many hours a day sitting behind a computer. Being physically inactive significantly raises our risk of colon and breast cancer, as well as our chances of suffering from a heart attack. Our bones and muscle weaken, our mood worsens and the likelihood of diseases such as Type II diabetes, rise when we are physically inactive as well. In the past, there was doubt regarding exactly how much sport we needed to undertake, to counteract the effects of the sedentary lifestyle. Doctors warned, for instance, that simply heading to the gym two or three hours a week was simply not enough if we spent numerous hours sitting every day. Global estimates indicated that over five million people die every year simply because they are not getting enough exercise.
A new report published in prestigious journal The Lancet by scientists at the University of Cambridge in July 2016, however, has answered our question of exactly how much exercise we need: one hour a day is the magic number and you can take your pick – everything from a brisk walk to a CrossFit session, running, or climbing up and down steps, will do.
The researchers analysed 16 different studies which contained information obtained from over one million persons. They placed subjects into four groups depending on their level of physical activity, ranging from the least active group (those who obtained less than five minutes per day of exercise) to those who spent over an hour on their favourite sport or workout. Their findings showed that between 60 and 75 minutes of moderate intensity exercise ever day were enough to prevent an increased risk of early death associated with sitting for over eight hours daily. However, they also found that three-quarters of the people in the study failed to achieve this level of daily exercise.
Most of us manage to practice our favorite sport at least two or three times a week but how can we get an hour of exercise a day, bearing in mind all our competing responsibilities (work, family, etc.)? The researchers recommended making a daily effort, even if this simply involved taking a brisk walk at lunch time, cycling to work instead of catching public transport, and ensuring that weekends involved sport and outdoor recreation. “Better little than nothing,” they say, since even if you cannot accomplish a full hour daily, doing at least some exercise, can have a beneficial effect.
During the day, say doctors, we should also make efforts to move, so we are not sitting for extended periods of time. Within an office setting, there is much we can do. For instance, instead of communicating with colleagues by email or phone, we should get up and visit them. Talking in person can also strengthen bonds within the office and enhance team spirit. Think about having a ‘walking meeting’ next time, instead of sitting around a table. Why not head out into the Great Outdoors for your next brainstorming session, availing of the stress-busting effects of simply spending time in a green setting?
Those who have no choice but to sit behind a desk for various hours need to set (at least) hourly alarms, to remind them to get up off their desk and run up and down the steps, or at least perform calesthenic-type exercises, to enhance their circulation. There are many exercises which can be performed indoors with little or no equipment – perhaps just a mat fo squats, sit-ups or push-ups. These short breaks are also the perfect time to counteract bad posture or poor desk ergonomics by performing stretching exercises.
They key to being physically fit, is establishing a positive relationship with exercise: making it a part of your everyday life, without setting unrealistic goals or embarking on an intense training program that you won’t manage to stick to. If you haven’t performed any exercise for a long time, ease into it by joining beginners’ classes and sports teams. Mindful based exercises such as yoga will help you increase your strength, flexibility and concentration, without overstressing your muscles and joints. Whatever you do, try to make sport as much fun as you can – there is nothing that will keep you committed more than an authentic enjoyment of working up a sweat.
Photos from Wikimedia Commons.
This is an article by Helen Cairns.