Many of us office workers turn up to work, make a cuppa, settle down to our computers and three hours later, realise that we’ve not moved an inch.
‘It’s because I’m being productive,’ you tell yourself, ‘I don’t have time to get up and walk around.’
Well it may be time to start making the time, because sitting down for long periods of time has been linked to heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes and obesity. And even if you do regular exercise outside of work hours, research has found that it won’t undo the damage done by sitting stock still 9-5.
So why aren’t we moving?
A team of scientists from UCLA suggest that it’s down to workplace culture rather than laziness. They found that despite the known risks of staying static, more than half of the students they interviewed thought it was socially unacceptable to stand up and stretch in the middle of a class.
That statistic led researchers to encouraging lecturers to build in breaks to their classes to force students to move and to introduce things like standing desks into the classrooms.
‘A cultural change has to take place – that it’s OK to take a stretch break, to stand up during a lecture, to fidget when needed – it’s “good” for health’s sake,’ said the lead study’s author, Professor Angelia Leung.
Their recommendations included:
- Taking a break every hour to stand and stretch
- Do more group-based work which involves moving to switch desks
- Create more open working spaces with room to walk without having to squeeze past other desks
- Install standing desk areas
To overcome social stigma, they also recommended that professors should take the lead in offering group breaks and specific times rather than relying on students to take the initiative. In the workplace, that would mean bosses actively encouraging their workforce to get up and move around – and taking part in that movement themselves.
But it’s not just about introducing space into the office environment. The researchers also stressed the need to educate people about the very real health risks attached to sitting down all day.
‘Many people thought they would be fine if they also squeezed in a 30-minute jog, and that’s not what research shows us,’ explained study co-author Burt Cowgill.
So even if you are exercising regularly, it’s not enough – you have to keep moving, hour to hour. Whatever you do, just get moving!
How to move more
- Set a timer on your phone for every hour: for 1-2 minutes, get up and move around
- Chat, don’t email: rather than writing to your colleague in the office, go up and talk to them face-to-face. Apart from minimising the risk of misunderstood communications, it also gives you a reason to get up
- Drink more: we know that we should be drinking at least two litres of water a day and it can be easy to forget. Keep a glass on your desk and get up to refill every hour
- Don’t hold it in: the more you drink, the more you’ll need to go to the loo. See, it’s quite easy to move around regularly!
- Wear a tracker: get yourself a fitness tracker which will remind you to move every hour and can set you a step goal every day. It’s hard to reach 10,000 steps in one go but if you aim to do 1,000 steps per hour, you’ll reach it before dinner time!
- Keep your snacks in the kitchen: rather than keeping food in your drawer or bag, see if you can store snacks in the kitchen or locker space – anywhere that requires getting up and walking over there. There’s nothing worse than grazing all day on ready-to-hand grub and not moving.