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Here we are, a couple of months into a global pandemic. For most us of this has been both a dramatic change to our lives and the way we engage in physical activity.
The early lock-down deluge with ‘inspirational’ vignettes of families learning to dance in unity and exercise together without rancour has slowed to a trickle. The implications of this being that they have succumbed to injury, boredom or lapsed back into more normal family dynamics. The rest of us may just have reached the stage where the only reason to launder “sportswear” are the food and drink stains down the front, so deep that they are visible to our colleagues during zoom meetings.
I think about physical activity….a lot. My PhD research is about returning to physical activity following hip surgery (arthroscopy) in young and middle-aged adults. The irony of sitting writing about physical activity for my PhD thesis has not escaped me. Over the last few years both knowledge and guilt have served as my motivators to move.
Over the last few weeks I have had the additional support and motivation of team LASEM (La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre) and our attempts to virtually circumnavigate Australia; complete the push-up challenge and guide the safe participation of others in physical activity. Despite all this, I continue to struggle with the basics. To help with the struggle, it seemed an opportune time to ride on the previous groundswell of good intentions and share some thoughts on the detrimental effects of excessive sitting.
The human body is built for movement. Tissues and organs respond positively and adapt to regular, progressive exercise, no matter what your starting point is. Conversely, inactivity increases the risk of premature death and suffering from a number of chronic diseases (heart disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, depression, breast and colorectal cancers….to highlight a few). Physical activity guidelines can be confusing, but aiming for at least half an hour of moderate exercise a day is a great place to start (watch this short video by Dr Mike Evans if you are in any doubt).
However, the time we spend sitting is independently associated with deleterious health outcomes, regardless of physical activity. This means that we need to make time to move, often and minimise our time in one position. The need for short, active breaks is even greater if home is not your usual desk environment and your ‘workstation’ (aka your demarcated 10% of the kitchen table) may be a less than ideal set up. It doesn’t have to be technical – if you are able to work standing up (perhaps while making phone calls?), this helps to minimise static time.
Taking time to stretch, walk on the spot, sort the washing, get a cuppa, look at the view and take a few deep breaths, can all be activities your joints, muscles, eyes and brain will reward you for. Even when our work environment is not ideal, it is easy to get absorbed in a task and literally forget to move. The principle of SUAW sessions, with timed focus on writing, lends itself nicely to the flip side of BLAM (be loud and move) during the breaks. Make your pomodoro work doubly hard and use it as a cue to move as well as work.
If you have questions about specific types of exercise, exercising with injuries or conditions such as arthritis, The La Trobe Sports and Exercise Medicine Research Centre blog is a great source of expert information with many myth busting posts and links to TREK for a whole range of resources from easy access infographics, to relevant academic papers.
In short, don’t be too hard on yourself.
While I still strive to improve my general physical activity, I think it is good to remember that small changes are also important. Do what you can, when you can, in terms of the big sweaty, or more effortful, stuff. Just don’t forget to move as often as possible through the day. Dance with the cat, throw paper at the bin, get some fresh air and be inventive to time movement into your ‘sit-at-the-desk’ schedule.
Denise Jones is a physiotherapist from the UK, currently completing her PhD at La Trobe University. Her research areas include hip-related pain, hip surgery and physical activity. You can find out more about Denise's research here.