Why we’re exercising less but moving more

Take it back a few years (or 8) and you’ll find us studying for our university degrees, sat down for 6-8 hours a day and then busting a gut on a 5 mile run, an hours bike ride, a spin class or circuits sesh in the evening. All in the name of keeping fit and healthy. Fast forward to today and our idea of what it takes to keep a healthy, well functioning body has been well and truly challenged and our daily habits look rather different.

The latest science is starting to describe ‘sitting’ as the new ‘smoking’, with those spending the majority of their day sat down at a higher risk of heart disease, decreased bone density and obesity amongst other things. Studies have found those who sit for more than 6 hours a day are at a greater risk of early death than those who sat for three hours or less. Well – there’s loads we can say about these studies that might contribute to this ‘early death’ but the interesting bit to us? Many of those sitting for 6 hours or more were also meeting the recommendations for daily exercise. Now, we’re not disputing the fact that regular ‘exercise’ is good for you – most of us have read about and/or experienced the benefits. But too much sitting and trying to counteract it with bursts of exercise has not shown to be beneficial.

So how does this happen? There are a few ideas out there in the science world including…

1. Long periods of inactivity decreases the activity of certain enzymes that help us burn fat.

2. “Excess sitting increases blood pressure and decreases the diameter of arteries, both of which make heart disease more likely” (Chris Kresser – click here for the article).

3. Certain medical conditions can be exacerbated or caused by inactivity including things like deep vein thrombosis, which can be fatal.

4. Bones can become weaker (due to lack of muscle usage) leading to more likely fractures.

5. Muscle uses a large amount of the glucose in our body and lower muscle mass has been linked to higher rates of insulin resistance. Even standing (therefore supporting the bodies own weight) has been shown to increase energy expenditure 2.5 times over sitting (click here for more).

The bottom line is this – sitting for hours on end doesn’t seem to be doing us any good, but nor does killing it in the gym after a long day of of being sedentary. In fact if you can’t summon up the motivation to join the gym, fear not! What is showing to have major health benefits time and again is movement throughout the day, including plenty of walking. Aiming to get your recommended 10,000 steps a day is a great place to start but there are plenty of other ways to keep your body moving across the day.

Here are some suggestions of how you could move that butt some more:

  • Park further away from work so you have to walk some way in.
  • Cycle to work if possible (Andy has this one down to a tee, Sarah has started and is LOVING it!).
  • Take standing or walking meetings.
  • Need to make a phone call? Make it stood up or pacing around your office.
  • Use bathrooms/water stations further away from your desk for a quick 5 minute break each hour.
  • If you’ve got legs that work, TAKE THE STAIRS! Take them 2 at a time to push your heart rate a little too, or even sprint them!
  • Got a lunch break? Take a 15/20 minute walk as part of it before you eat. Take a podcast/some music to keep you entertained. 
  • Fit a 30-60 minute walk somewhere into your day (you don’t have to do it all at once!) – first thing in the morning or just before/after dinner can be a good time and if you’ve got a family, take them with you (bikes/scooters are a good incentive!)
  • If you’re feeling adventurous throw in some walking lunges, squats, a burpee (or 10) or some press ups into your walking routine.
  • Find an active hobby – not a ‘forcing-myself-to-do-it’ gym class but something you ACTUALLY enjoy!
  • Work from home? Don’t sit in the same chair all the time to work. Move around by trying to sit on the floor with your computer on a coffee table, creating your own standing desk (we put our laptop on a pile of books!) or using different spaces to work throughout the day. Make it slightly uncomfortable so you can’t sit too still for long!

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