Many of you will understand this. Sitting down at a desk in front of a computer for 8-12 hours a day. Bleurgh!!
Recently I've been wondering what my sedentary job is doing to my body and what I can do to counter-act any negative effects. That led me down a googling rabbit hole and I've put together what I hope is a helpful summary of how we can all try to keep ourselves healthy, even if we sit on our butt for the majority of the day!
Impact of a sedentary life....
The government recommends that in order to keep ourselves healthy, we should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity) per week and strength activity (working on all the major muscles) on at least two days per week (http://www.nhs.co.uk). Pffff! That sounds relatively easy doesn't it?....
I've said this before but, although that might sound easy, it's not always. Whether it's at all achievable for you will purely depend on any other demands you have to juggle that week. For instance, I know people that work for huge law firms who are expected to be at their desks from about 8am until 10pm/midnight every day. Sometimes if there's a deadline to meet, they have been known to leave the office in the early hours of the morning only to return again at 8am for a new day! Then there's also people whose career sees them working really odd and unsociable hours on a regular basis. All in all it can be tough for a lot of people to find 2.5 hours a week, even though that sounds like such a short period of time.
According to the stats, around 39% of UK adults are not meeting this goal. Unfortunately I think that's telling of how too many people feel under such a huge amount of pressure to prioritise work over their health. I think it's extremely sad that we've even made it to this point where work consumes us to the detriment of our well-being but it's definitely something that I empathise with.
If you're one of those people who do feel under pressure to (in the words of Rihanna) work work work work work work, then (purely taken from personal experience) here are some tips for squeezing in your recommended dose of physical activity:
1. Walk everywhere you can possibly walk - In London in particular, I frequently see people blindly hopping on the tube wherever they're going. What they don't seem to realise is that often their destination is within walking distance. If you can, stick your trainers on and walk! It beats getting on a sweltering tube doesn't it?
If this option really doesn't appeal to you and you can't stand walking, you could buy a Fitbit or another device that records your steps. Set some goals and have a competition with a friend each week (I've done this before and trust me it definitely spurs you on!). It will hopefully make walking more appealing and encourage you to ditch the public transport.
2. If you have time, go for a morning run, find a short HIIT class nearby that you can do before work, or even do one in the park with a friend. I've found that the trick is to do this somewhere close by (to work or home but I prefer home) so that you're not adding more time to your day by going out of your way. That way you'll be more likely to stick to it in the long term! It might seem like your worst nightmare to get up that little bit earlier to work out but once you get used to it, it definitely gets easier.
3. If you're already waking up mega early and can't bear to see an earlier hour on your alarm clock, you could fit your recommended weekly exercise into your commute (check out my previous blog posts which cover this). A 30 minute cycle to work and back will do the trick!
4. Lastly, don't put too much pressure on yourself- try to do things you enjoy and you'll be more likely to stick to them. Remember, the guideline is only to do moderate exercise so if all you can stomach is a bit of walking, then that's better than nothing!
Sitting on our butts.....
Not so fast though! Apparently there's growing evidence to show that even if you are being a motivated badass and doing the recommended amount of physical activity each week, if you have a sedentary lifestyle the rest of the time (ie. if you're sat at a desk for 8 hours a day), you're still putting your health at risk. Great!! Most of us who do have sedentary jobs don't really have much say in the matter, so what's the solution then?
Here are some tips for being a little bit less sedentary in the office, which I've been trying to implement:
1. Stand up and walk around whilst you're speaking on the phone. You'll probably look like you're auditioning for a part in Wolf on Wall Street (i.e. like a bit of a dickhead) but who cares!
2. Go for a stroll at lunch if you get the time. But try to find the time if you can. We all need a break!
3. Walk to your co-workers desks instead of calling or emailing them...something I'm definitely guilty of when I'm snowed under or feeling unsociable!!
4. Use the stairs rather than the lift....if that's feasible. If you work in a high rise where this would be a pretty mean feat, you could always hop off the lift half way up (or wherever seems like a reasonable place for you to start climbing depending on your level of fitness!!!) and walk the rest of the way. It will get easier the more you do it. Plus, it means you won't have to have that awkward lift convo...or absence of a convo!! Bonus!!
5. Make yourself more tea during the day and take the long route to the kitchen. 10 cups of English breakfast tea throughout the day might not be that great though so perhaps try to find a fruit tea you like or go decaffeinated so you don't end up with the caffeine jitters!!
6. If you're feeling very brave, you could always ask your workplace to buy you an adjustable desk so that you can spend some of your day standing up. I would personally absolutely love this!
Your employer may have certain duties in this regard, for instance it should ensure that you have a suitable workstation and seating. Although for most people this probably doesn't include buying you a standing up desk (although any employment lawyers can let me know if it does!!), it's worth putting your case forward if you want one.
7. Do some mini stretches at your desk. If you work open plan and/or find it mildly embarrassing to do this (which you shouldn't but I get why you might) then why not just nip to the loo and do them in a cubicle there. Sounds silly but who's going to know!!
So many people are victim to our obesogenic environments but unfortunately most of us don't have a choice but to do our jobs, even if that means sitting down all day. However, everything we can do to counter-act the effects of sitting on our butts 24/7 must be of some benefit and must be decreasing our risk of health problems in the future. So the motto here is, every little helps.
More importantly, we should all be more conscious about putting work to one side for a few moments each day (as hard as that is!) to concentrate on our poor bodies that we often neglect! Remember, you only get one.
Let me know if you have any tips for being less sedentary! Or maybe you have the opposite problem and your job is exhaustingly physical? I'd love to hear from you!!