BUPA GLOBAL

Exercise more

Taking steps to move more: A guide to staying active

Woman sitting on a medicine ball

To keep your body healthy you need to keep physically active, but these days, the prevalence of sedentary jobs means that few of us can avoid sitting down. However, even small adjustments can reduce the negative impact on our wellbeing.

The equation is simple: for better health, move more. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week1. According to the European Commission, however, almost half (49.8%) of the population aged 18 or over in the European Union (EU) did not do any sport in 2014, and only 29.9% spent at least 2.5 hours per week of leisure time doing physical activities2.

Alongside desk-based jobs, the reasons for our rising immobility include longer commutes, screen-based entertainment and technological innovations like lifts and escalators. Workplace stress can also be a factor: heavy workloads and deadline pressures might mean longer hours at your desk, and stress in itself makes healthy lifestyle habits harder to maintain.

Why moving more matters

Making time to stand up and exercise has a range of health benefits – including lowering our risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke3. Your mood could improve, too. Regular activity helps boost endorphins4, the feel-good brain chemicals that have a powerful effect on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

According to WHO, an active lifestyle reduces your susceptibility to stress, anxiety and depression, and could delay the effects of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia5. You might also notice that you sleep better and have more energy.

Tracking and adjusting your habits

For many people, a ‘daily dose’ of movement comes with exercise. However, while a spinning class or a jog might increase your fitness, small adjustments to your movement levels over the rest of the day are just as important.

“It’s not that the exercise isn't helpful,” says physiotherapist David Hall. “It’s just that it won’t remove a factor that is shortening your life, in the same way that exercise won’t cancel out the health impact of smoking a packet of cigarettes a day.”

“Many people opt for wearable devices to track and increase their exercise levels, but remember to think about your posture and range of movement, as well as your daily step count.”

Sitting - Bupa Australia video

The first step is to build your awareness of how much sitting you actually do. Many of us underestimate the amount of time we are sedentary – especially if we live busy lives or travel often. David’s suggestion is to check in with yourself regularly and ask, “What has my body done today? Have I had much variation in my posture? Have I used my body in different ways?" Keeping an activity journal may help.

Many people opt for wearable devices to track and increase their exercise levels, but remember to think about your posture and range of movement, as well as your daily step count.

With a clear picture of your activity patterns, you can now work on integrating more standing, walking and stretching into your daily routine. Can you find opportunities to walk up stairs instead of taking lifts? Or to plan social catch-ups around a physical activity, like a walk or cycle ride?

Strategies at work

"Research shows that if you get up for two minutes every 30 minutes then the impacts of prolonged sitting can be reduced," says Hall. This is good news for those of us with desk-based jobs. Here are some tips for moving more in an office environment:

  • Set a timer on your phone that reminds you to get up and move every 30 minutes.
  • Take smaller mini breaks throughout each hour, and do desk stretches.
  • Go for a walk on your lunch break.
  • Consider whether a sit-stand desk or a fitness ball is an option.
  • Drink plenty of water and have a water bottle close by, so you regularly get up for a refill or go to the bathroom.
  • Make a pact with colleagues to walk over to each other to talk, rather than relying on phone or email.
  • Stand during meetings, or walk and talk.
  • Configure your computer to use a printer further away from your desk.

It can take time and effort to break sedentary habits, but small, consistent changes will add up. Moving more is an investment in your physical and mental health. So, stand up for your health today.

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Sources

1. and 2. Eurostat (http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/en/web/products-eurostat-news/-/DDN-20170302-1 ), last accessed in March 2017

3. NHS (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/whybeactive.aspx), last accessed in March 2017

4. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st), last accessed in March 2017

5. WHO (http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/physical-activity/data-and-statistics/is-physical-activity-a-reality-for-all), last accessed in March 2017

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