Stand up for good health
No, really stand up. I recently attended the British Heart Foundation National Centre (BHFNC) conference on reducing sedentary time and it got me thinking. Even though I’m a fairly active person and I get my 30 minutes of daily physical activity, which is important for cancer prevention, I still spend a lot of time sitting down – at work, at home, with my friends. Like many people I’ll only stand on the bus or tube if there aren’t any seats – and let’s face it, who hasn’t eyeballed someone (or used their elbows) for the last seat on public transport? The fact is, I don’t often choose to stand.
I do take regular breaks at work but I’m still sitting a lot. And what do I do when I come home from the gym? Flop down on the sofa and sit. A briefing paper by the BHFNC states that we should be aiming to reduce our sedentary time because of links to chronic diseases including cancer.
So what is sedentary behaviour?
Sedentary behaviour is any activity that uses very little energy and involves sitting or lying down and is classed as a behaviour in its own right. Recognising this is important as it’s possible for someone to be getting the recommended amount of physical activity but still engage in high levels of sedentary behaviour. For example, you might go to the gym but also spend several hours sitting watching television.
Most people know that getting the recommended amount of activity is important for reducing our risk of cancer, as well as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, so we should all be aiming to move more. But as well as moving more, the message from the conference was that we should also be aiming to sit less.
Stuart Biddle, professor of physical activity and health at Loughborough University, ran a workshop about tackling the chair and other challenges to reducing sedentary time. By simply halving the number of chairs in the workshop, I found myself among those standing for the session. It was fine and strangely I felt more alert and engaged. Note-taking was difficult but it meant that I was more selective about what I wrote down.
OK, so it’s easy to say that, but how practical is it? I conducted a little experiment. Last week, I tried reducing my sedentary time – I stood on the tube, I stood in meetings for at least the first ten minutes and I didn’t dive for the sofa as soon as I got home. I stood up when I spoke to people and I went to see colleagues at their desks rather than emailing them. At every opportunity I chose to stand or move rather than sit. And although it was quite strange at first, as the week went on it became more natural.
It was interesting that a lot of my sedentary time seemed to be habitual, something I didn’t even think about – get on the tube and if there was a seat, sitting down without thinking. As soon as I thought about it I easily reduced my sitting time. By the end of the week I was sitting for at least an hour less a day.
So, stand up for good health and, as well as thinking about moving more, think about sitting less.
- if it’s a short journey on the bus, train or tube,
- for the first ten minutes of a meeting,
- when talking to friends or colleagues,
- you don’t need to sit. It’s surprising how habitual sitting down is.