Re-charge: Staying healthy when you’re stuck at your desk
‘We are sitting at our desks more and more and it’s slowly killing us’ Eric Ho
That was the stark message in Re-charge: Staying healthy when you’re stuck at your desk, Eric Ho’s fourth and penultimate webinar in his five-part Re-set series on 19 November.
And it even applies if you’re the really active type who runs or works out at the gym every day.
What’s so bad about sitting?
Firstly, it slows down our metabolic rate. As our bodies get accustomed to having precious little to do, our metabolisms start taking things easy. As well as poor metabolic health being a key risk factor in poor Covid-19 outcomes, it can lead to weight gain, general sluggishness and mental underperformance for anyone.
Another downside to sitting down for extended periods is that it impairs our metabolic function, decreasing the activity of an enzyme, lipoprotein lipase (LPL) which is associated with higher triglicerides, lower levels of HDL and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. When we ease into our seats, be it at our desks, in front of the telly or in trains, planes or automobiles, for long periods of time, this can damage arteries and can even reduced cognitive capacity.
Physical inactivity is also linked to breast and colon cancer, diabetes and high cholesterol. Little wonder then that too much sitting down and higher mortality rates are closely linked.
Now the good news
The antidote to a sedentary existence doesn’t lie in the sudden adoption of an exercise regime beyond your powers of endurance. Yes, it’s about factoring more movement into our day and yes, there are benefits to upping the intensity two or three times a week.
It’s also about taking a rounded view. Throughout the Re-set series, Eric has spoken about the value of managing stress, eating well and getting quality sleep. A healthy balance between working at a desk and getting our bodies moving is simply another pillar in a holistic approach to our wellbeing.
We need to make change to our habits achievable, too, which is why Eric urges us to start with one almost-impossibly-small next step. That way, he says, it’s impossible to fail. Then, with a new habit established, you have a platform to build new routines on.
And, in fact, being overactive can be just as harmful as being underactive. If you’re a fitness fanatic and have ever found yourself taking more time than usual to recover from a workout, feeling your performance didn’t match your effort or even experiencing anxiety, difficulty concentrating or remembering, you’ve probably been overdoing it.
Exactly where the sweet spot between inert and overactive is will be unique to you. We’re all different, so experiment with these techniques to find the level and blend that work best around you and your lifestyle.
Get your head around it
Find your why. Nobody can motivate you better than you can yourself. Ask yourself what you’ll be able to do when you’re more active that you can’t do now. That’s your goal.
Ideally, aim to spend half your day standing up. Ways to incorporate standing into your life include working at a standing desk and using a balance disk and/or a yoga ball. You could also use a break reminder app on your device to help you schedule micro breaks and proper time outs into a long day at the computer terminal.
If you can rack up 10,000 steps a day, great. That’s around five miles and the movement that requires will do you a power of good. It doesn’t have to be an 8k jog either. Walking to the shops, gardening, housework, taking stairs (instead of lifts or escalators) and jogging on the spot all contribute to your step count.
We mentioned earlier that ramping up the intensity from time to time is good for your health. So, every week, aim to complete at least one, or a combination, of:
- 150 minutes of moderate activity, such as jogging or yoga (50-70%*);
- 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running or competitive sport (70-90%); or
- 30 minutes at maximum intensity, such as sprinting, skipping rope or resistance training (100%).
*Use perceived exertion (how hard you feel you’re working as a percentage of your maximum potential). And when you’re looking to build a strong cardiovascular base, if you have a heart rate monitor, you could use the MAF 180 formula.
Finally, remember that as well as a functional health coach, Eric is still a lawyer. Therefore, there’s an important caveat alongside all his advice:
Talk to your doctor before changing your exercise regime
Eric’s final webinar in the Re-set series, Rewire: Look forward to retirement with a brain that’s still healthy will be on 3 December. Find out more and register here.