As a population, we are inherently less mobile than we used to be. Many of us have exchanged the manual work of our ancestors for more sedentary professions that involve sitting at a desk or being behind the wheel. It is inevitable that this will have an adverse effect on our health, so what can we do to combat this?
We all know that exercise is good for us, but what are we supposed to do if our jobs keep us sat in one place for long periods of time? Here, Andrea Easton, Head of Finance and Operations at Fleet Ex, look at the problems that sitting for too long can bring as well as ways to work around this and ensure that you can look after your health no matter what job you do.
The Dangers Of Sitting Still
You won’t find it on many death certificates, but physical inactivity is actually the fourth largest cause of death and disability in the UK. There are a whole range of conditions that can be brought on or exaggerated by a lack of activity, including a 112% increased risk of diabetes, a 147% increased risk of cardiovascular death and a 49% risk of all-cause mortality. These are not the only conditions that you might suffer from, as long-term sitters also fall victim to back, neck and leg pain, sleep apnoea, premature ageing, deep vein thrombosis, blood clots, strokes and mental health conditions.
The reason that sitting still is so bad for you is because you add a static load to your musculoskeletal system, and this prevents the effective circulation of the blood around the body. If you are not sat correctly, you can also put additional pressure on other areas of your body such as your back or legs so thinking about your posture is also important. It can also lead to a build-up of fluid and peaking blood glucose levels which contribute to obesity.
How To Combat Inactivity
The obvious solution to combatting inactivity is to move more, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking a couple of gym sessions each week are going to do enough. If you want to fight the effects of sitting still effectively then you need to ensure that you are trying to move around every 30 minutes or so. This doesn’t need to be a full workout, and what you do will vary according to your situation, but it can prevent many of the health risks associated with being sedentary.
Ideally, we need to spend 20 minutes per day being active, although few of us actually do this. By breaking this up into regular chunks, it is much easier to work into a daily routine and feels far more achievable. One way to add activity into your day is to think about how you get to work.
The commute leaves us sat in one place for a long time so getting off the bus a stop early or parking further away can give you just a few minutes of gentle walking that will benefit your muscles, your heart and your mind all before you even start work.
Being Active As A Driver
When you are an HGV driver, it can be much harder to take a break every half an hour. You will be on the road with deadlines to meet and traffic to beat, so pulling over for a walk is unlikely to be an option. However, there are exercises that you can do in your seat when you are parked up or even when sat at the traffic lights.
These exercises can involve muscular contractions that give you a form of resistance without actually having to move. They might seem small but by placing stresses on different muscle groups you can ensure that you give them and your heart a workout.
These exercises can include pressing yourself towards the steering wheel while holding it and pulling back again to activate your back, shoulders and arms. You can help your posture by sitting up as tall as possible and then tucking your chin back or work your core by squeezing your abs to draw your belly button into your spine and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
Being Active In The Office
Being stuck behind a desk can have a huge impact on your activity levels and it can seem difficult to work exercise into your day without incurring the wrath of your boss. However, regular stretches are a great way to break up the day and keep you healthy. These can be done in your seat, or you could start to work some lunges, quad stretches and arm rotations into your walk to the kitchen.
When you do get a break, try and make full use of it. If you can, try and take a 10-minute walk when you have your lunch, or take the lift instead of the stairs. Stand up desks are becoming increasingly popular and give you the opportunity to shift your weight. You could also add ankle weights to allow you to do effective leg lifts under your desk, or turn typically immobile discussions into walking meetings.
For any sedentary lifestyle, stretching is crucial. You can rotate your neck, pull your shoulder, bend your wrist and pull your chest all whilst sat in your seat. When you do have the freedom to move, you can think about compound exercises such as planks, squats and crunches as well as cardio activities like walking.
As a nation, it is estimated that we spend around 67 hours a week sitting down. That’s three whole days. When you start to think about it in that context, it becomes clear that we need to do something about it, even when our work environment does not necessarily lend itself to being active. A few small changes to a daily routine can have a massive impact on your health and keep many serious conditions at bay no matter what job you do.