Get moving - to avoid premature death
Doesn't sitting on an exercise ball seem like a more fun way to spend your work day? As new research shows a lack of physical movement is responsible for 17pc of premature deaths, Jamie Ball talks to the experts who remind us that moving helps lubricate our joints and promote oxygenated blood flow. So before you take that lift, consider using the stairs...
'People misunderstand the potential of their own body," says physiotherapist and managing director of Personal Health in Dublin 6 Andrew Dunne. "We don't think enough about the internal orchestra: our organs will thank us hugely if we embrace movement, regardless of changes in our waistband."
As the Irish - if our Facebook pages are to be believed - engage in more exercise than ever, the role of regular movement in our daily lives is getting drowned out by the more headline-friendly pursuit of push-ups and personal bests, kettle bells and calorie cuts.
However, scientists and health professionals have been re-evaluating the role non-exercise activity plays in our physical health and cognitive functioning, and the results are startling.
According to The Lancet, in the UK, the incidence of non-communicable diseases which can be attributed to physical inactivity include 18pc of colon and breast cancer cases and 17pc of premature "all-cause mortality".
An earlier Canadian study revealed that adults who are physically inactive have a 30pc higher risk of hypertension than active adults, while one 2005 US study found that obese people were seated, on average, two hours longer per day than their leaner counterparts.
"Without any movement we are at a 78pc risk of developing cardiovascular disease," says Dunne. "Movement is key for joint mobility and circulation. That's why people who are in hospital can get very frustrated with staff who wish to move them while they are in such pain.
"The systemic effects of lack of movement are so corrosive to the body that healthcare professionals will demand that their patients move.
"A sedentary lifestyle means we load our weight-bearing joints, such as spine, hips and knees, inefficiently and inappropriately. This has a knock-on effect on mobility and increases the risk of tissue damage, which leads to pain levels," says Dunne.
The news shouldn't come as a surprise when you consider the tens of millions of years humankind has been evolving, all of which entailed near-continual movement through our waking day - apart from the last the century or two.
It's no wonder our minds and bodies have not caught up with the largely sedentary nine-to-five so many of us now lead. But movement is vital to lubricate the joints and promote oxygenated blood flow.
"Movement is harder to define in terms of acceptable outcomes, but anecdotally, the patients I have seen who move the most are generally the patients who I see the least," says Dunne, whose clinic provides a number of work-based, well-being programmes designed around movement, fun, participation and smart eating.
"We encourage top management to participate as leaders, because the herd will follow. It's all about the culture of the organisation and whether health is valued. The organisations that genuinely value health reap the benefits in significant margins, by having a workforce who feel valued, generally happier and more productive."
The link between movement and productivity has frequently been overlooked in the workplace, but non-exercise activity can serve as mental pick-me-ups, as it causes a brief period of hyperoxygenation in the brain, spurring energy and concentration.
"When we talk of 'cognitive functioning,' we are referring to our abilities to think, reflect, remember, speak, make decisions and learn," says Dr Srinivasan Pillay, a Professor at Harvard Medical School, CEO of the NeuroBusiness Group and author of Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders.
"In general, people think of these functions as brain-related, and they are, but what many people may not recognise is that many brain regions involved in the coordination of movement also participate in how we learn. Hence, in the brain, how we think and how we move are connected."
Pillay says some movement is better than no movement at all: for every 30 minutes of daily lifestyle activity, there is a 15pc lower odds of having a metabolic syndrome. Furthermore, he says too much sedentariness prevents effective brain repair when necessary, while exercise exerts both acute and long-term beneficial changes in the brain.
In addition, inactivity can worsen body or muscle pain, indirectly influence poorer grades at school and increase the likelihood of the onset of degenerative diseases like dementia, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, says Pillay.
"Your brain can change, as you need to be adaptive and resilient, but this capacity diminishes as you get older. Exercise helps to maintain your brain's ability to change. It does this by stimulating growth factors called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that helps brain cells grow and also produces new brain cells," says Pillay.
According to Frank Power, an inspector and ergonomist with the Health & Safety Authority, being in a prolonged static posture for long periods of time can be a problem.
"The evidence suggests that's not ideal, as you're not getting the opportunity to alternate movement from static to dynamic. Static loading means a restricted blood flow to the muscles, which can cause tiredness," says Power.
"There is no specific, prescriptive data out there that will tell you how long you should stay sitting or standing. Our own advice is that people should not sit in the same position at a computer workstation for long periods of time but should change posture as often as possible."
Power says sit-stand workstations have been around in recent years but are getting more attention of late. "But the evidence is not conclusive that, per se, sit-stand stations are significantly better than sitting stations. According to the Finish Institute of Occupational Health, the best approach is to avoid prolonged static sitting and prolonged static standing through a balanced change of posture and movement.
"You don't want a situation where if you decide to sit at a sit-stand station that you're looking upwards at the screen. The table and the seating need to be fully adjustable to take account of the needs of the user," says Power.
"As the technology changes there is also an increased awareness in the office environment of the importance of movement, which is a positive thing… but some thought needs to be put into the workstation they use, which is compatible with their needs and the work that they are doing."
Ten ways to stay active in work
• Always take the stairs
• Sit on an exercise / Swiss ball at your desk
• Stand up periodically
• Walk to a farther toilet, preferably one on a separate floor
• Get up and walk over to colleagues rather than sending intra-office emails
• Try small stretches or exercises like knee extensions
• Use a foam roller (if space permits) to help decrease muscle tension and stay mobile
• If budget permits, acquire a sit-stand work station or a treadmill desk
• When concentration is lagging and if time allows, take a brisk walk outside for 5-10 minutes
• If agreeable to your colleagues and amenable to your work environment, hold walking meetings
Health & Living