Modern technology has to be a good thing, right? The benefits to information retrieval, storage and sharing, speed of communication, transport (both vehicles and infrastructure) entertainment and medicine are surely pretty obvious. Yet it’s only recently that we started to consider the negative impact of our digital revolution – cyber bullying, internet misinformation, data security, social isolation, electro-magnetic radiation and the alarming rise in sedentary lifestyles.
We seem to be striving for a society of convenience – convenient food, convenient shopping, convenient communication, convenient entertainment. We now not only don’t have to get out our chair to change the TV channel or the music, with voice recognition software we don’t even have to lift a finger!
Compared to our fore-fathers (and mothers) we are significantly less active, spending more of our time stationary – in cars, at desks, on sofas, using escalators and lifts, watching box sets, playing video games.
It has been estimated that average activity levels are 60% less compared to 100 years ago, which is equivalent to expending 1,000Kcal, or walking 16km, less per day. Today, jobs which are physically active are less than 25% of the workforce – half of what it was in 1950.
Physical activity is part of our human evolution, yet we have moved very rapidly over the last 70 years from a world where physical activity, for most, was almost necessary for survival to one in which it has become an optional extra – a form of relaxation, socialisation or entertainment. Maintaining healthy activity levels now has to be a conscious decision and in the fast paced, convenience focused 21st century, it often falls to the bottom of the priority list.
Yet we ignore this increasing sedentary lifestyle at our peril. Insufficient general activity levels are a major global cause of chronic ill health. The relationship between inactivity and obesity, with the health consequence obesity brings with it, is self-evident but did you know that independent of a person’s weight, their level of sedentary behaviour correlates with risk of mental illness, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, cancer and early death?
But wait! Sure we may sit all day at a desk or behind the wheel and yes, okay, we spend more evenings on the couch than we should, but hey there’s the gym, 5-a-side, jogging, cycling once, twice, even three times a week – that’s got to compensate, right? Unfortunately – wrong!
The reality of scientific evidence is that whilst there are significant health benefits of taking part in moderate aerobic exercise 2-3 hours a week, that alone will not compensate if the rest of the week is spent largely stationary.
So, what to do? What daily habits will help shake off that sedentary lifestyle?
Add a daily walk into your schedule – a 30-minute brisk walk a day can add 3-4 years onto your life expectancy. So maybe deliberately park the car a little further away from work (or avoid the car altogether), make time during the day to get outside and stretch the legs (you could even encourage colleagues to join you) or go for a walk in the evening as a break between work and home time.
Avoid prolonged sitting – stand and walk or stretch for 5-10 minutes every hour that you’re at your desk, or for 15-20 minutes every two hours of driving. It’s not only good for your health, but will also boost creativity and help your focus and concentration when you return to your work.
Seek out the stairs – a great way to keep the leg muscles, heart and lungs in good shape, is to shun the lifts and escalators and use the stairs. You will be amazed at how quickly stamina and fitness will improve, with further benefits to your mental health and general feeling of well-being.
Use technology to your advantage – when used in the right way technology can be a huge help to our health. The increasing affordability of wearable tech such as wrist bands or watches that can measure the number of steps, heart rate, sleep quality and remind us when it’s time to move, means that we can have regular feedback on our activity levels on a daily basis. And if we can measure it, we can improve it.
It is very possible that sitting has become our society’s new smoking. Sedentary lifestyle is an insidious erosion of our health disguised as lifestyle convenience. It’s time to take back control (and I don’t mean the TV remote!) – yes it takes a little effort, some planning and certainly commitment to move more on a daily basis, but the benefits to physical and mental health will be quickly seen and felt with significant longer term improvement in both lifespan and healthspan.
Go on, take a step…and then another, and another…you know it makes sense.
If you need help to develop any of the areas discussed in this blog, feel free to connect or contact us for a FREE consultation.