Many of us spend 7 or more hours sitting down during the day. We spend so much time working at desks, or driving, or sitting watching TV in the evenings. When we meet up with friends on the weekend we do even more sitting; in the pub or a cafe. A lot of us end up living sedentary lives, without even realising it. After all, we’re busy, we’re doing things, but a lot of those things involve sitting.
One of the largest pieces of research to study the health implications of sitting, found that sitting or laying for long periods of time is actually very bad for us. People who sit for long periods of time had a much higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
The main findings of the study were that, compared to the shortest time spent sedentary, the longest time spent sedentary was associated with a:
112% increase in risk of diabetes
147% increase in cardiovascular events
90% increase in death due to cardiovascular events
49% increase in death due to any cause
The NHS recommends that to counteract this sedentary lifestyle, we need to aim to get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. That works out to about 30 minutes of exercise Monday to Friday. We all know we need more exercise and that inactivity is bad for us, but actually implementing exercise into our lives is easier said than done. Some people are happy to spend an hour in the gym every day, swimming or doing weight training, but it’s difficult to actually change our routine and go out of our way to travel to the gym, work out for an hour and pay membership fees. People who will wake up at 6 am to go to a boot camp training session before work are rare. For some of us simply getting in the shower takes a lot of effort early in the morning!
If you have a busy life packed with meetings, business trips, grand-kids and errands, taking the time out of your schedule to exercise might seem impossible. Even though you’re aware of the health risks of being sedentary, you may find yourself putting them to the back of your mind in favour of more urgent worries – like spending enough time with your family and making sure your bills get paid.
It’s possible to become more active and spend less time sitting down without the gym membership and without having to pick up a pair of running shoes. Nilofer Merchant, a business innovator working in Silicone Valley did a Ted Talk recently about her life style change that is helping her become more active – she does business meetings with her clients while walking. It may sound a little odd, but changing small things in your life and increasing your activity in little doses all adds up. Nilofer is now walking 30 miles per week during her business meetings.
It doesn’t take that much for something to become a habit that’s just part of your routine. This month is National Walking Month, why not make a plan to be more active this month and see what works best for you?
Here are some ideas for little changes that could add up to create a much more active and less sedentary lifestyle long term:
1. Walk or cycle to work instead of driving or taking the bus.
2. Take a long walk to the Peak District with your family and reward yourself with a pub Sunday Lunch.
3. Instead of spending Friday night sitting in the pub, go to a local salsa night with your friends and have a dance.
4. Use the Move More Sheffield activity finder to find things to do near you.
5. Take regular breaks from your desk to have a little stretch and walk around. Get a drink for your colleague or take a 5 minute walk outside.
6. Use a pedometer and set yourself goals to increase how many steps you take each day. Many smart phones have pedometers built in. The new app ‘Human’ monitors your activity with a target of 30 minutes per day.
7. Join in with a Pilates or yoga video on YouTube instead of watching a TV show.
8. Start gardening, it can be quite intense exercise and you can involve your whole family.
9. Download a quick fitness app on your smart phone. They can instruct you on how to do a quick 4 or 7 minute mini work out each day.
10. If you’re a gamer, using a Nintendo Wii can be quite strenuous activity, it’s better for you than sitting playing Xbox or Playstation.
11. Use the stairs instead of the lift or escalators.
12. Clean your home more regularly, an intense cleaning session can burn up to 200 calories per hour and your home will be even nicer to live in. You could set a goal to do 20 minutes of cleaning or tidying every day.
13. Exercise while watching TV. Do a simple exercise you can do on the spot like stepping or hula hooping. If you have a home exercise machine, you could use it in front of the telly.
14. Take the kids bowling.
15. Go for a walk around some independent shops or a farmers market on weekends.
16. You can check here what exhibitions are on in Sheffield. Walking around them with a friend is better than sitting in a cafe.
17. Don’t order your lunch, go and collect the office sandwiches – it’s a good excuse to get out and about.
18. Have stand up meetings. Not only are they better for your back and save you time sitting down, they also tend to be brisker and discourage people from talking excessively.
19. Do stretching exercises when you wake up.
20. Cook a meal from scratch every day. It’ll get you stood up and moving around as well as encouraging you to eat healthy food. Baking your own bread will give your arms a mini workout.
21. Give your partner hour long massages. They’ll love you all the more for it.
22. Start a hobby that will encourage you to be more active. It doesn’t have to be a sport. You could start bee keeping, wood working, painting or photography.
23. Do sponsored runs or walks. The sponsorship money you get may give you extra motivation.
24. Stand up while talking on the telephone, use this opportunity to get away from your computer and have a little walk and stretch.
25. If you’re into meditation or mindfulness, try walking meditation.
26. Start a work 5 a side team.
27. Play more often with your kids or pets.
If you’d like to make some positive changes this month, identify what you would like to do and how often you’re going to do it. Set yourself goals, keep a tally of all actions towards your goals and remember to reward yourself when you meet them. You could use a habit tracking app, a notebook planner, or just keep a mental note. You may find that you go from having a sedentary lifestyle to exceeding the recommended exercise of 30 minutes per day without much extra effort at all. The extra energy you get from being more active might create a positive spiral and mean that you are encouraged to do even more exercise, like regular running or swimming.