There’s a limited number of places to hide in a standard 3 bed semi, and I’ve been in all of them. The obvious place to head would be the bathroom, just lock the door and hide away for 5 minutes peace. But it isn’t an option, all the locks from toilets had to be removed on health and safety grounds. So now, going to the toilet means my kids have a captive audience. The utility room is the next option, with the bonus that there’s a wine rack and secret stash of kit- kats in there. But again it doesn’t take long for them to figure that one out, usually half a glass of rioja and a stick of a kit-kat. You’d think the bed would be the first place they’d look, but hiding in unmade bed clothes got me 20 minutes, it got very warm. The car has definitely been the best option its has a radio, a phone charger and back seat I can lie down on, I’ve squeezed 43 minutes out of this one. The next option is the attic. Running has been the only real escape. Running is like having children, if you were to sit down and think about it rationally you’d quickly talk yourself out of doing it. Both hurt, are time consuming, costly and sometimes you need a break from them. But at least running comes with health benefits!
There is now so many of us working from home during this crisis, what previously would have been considered the dream with no annoying workmates, no traffic jams or trains has turned into a nightmare. The expectation may have been sitting at a nice desk looking at framed inspirational quotes, just popping down to the kitchen for a coffee and a quick catchup with the kids. The reality is so different. Working at a table surrounded by lego, covered in PVA glue, with random bits of paper and a half- eaten banana sandwiches….. it’s a complete mess. With the appropriate social distancing limitations currently placed on us, with gyms closed and our normal avenues of “escape” I mean exercise limited, we are all sitting more around tables, in front of TVs and even at our new work desks. Even if we are lucky enough to get a gap in the fence and sneak out for a quick run between Zoom meetings, the amount of time you spend sitting could be sabotaging the health benefits of your running or exercising regime. You can calculate your sitting using this calculator at http://www.getbritainstanding.org. Unfortunately, it may prove , like mine did, that you are in fact an active couch potato, and have the same health risks as your completely inactive counterparts (Owen et al., 2010b).
So we are all spending a huge amount of time on our backsides and this is a problem, a big problem. The benefits of increased levels of activity to health have been studied as far back as the 1950s, bus conductors and postmen were seen to have lower death rates from cardiovascular disease than the less active workers, the ones that sat – the drivers and switchboard operators (Morris et al., 1953). Industrial, technological and social progress have automated activities that previously needed manual input, considerably reduced our physical activity levels and greatly increased our sitting time (Matthews et al., 2012). We can now run our businesses and even our lives with our fingertips. When compared to our parents and grandparents, my generation work and live in surroundings that discourage movement and incidental exercise – we are required to sit for prolonged periods in work, school and home (Owen et al., 2010a). The research of a “sedentary lifestyle” has predominantly focussed on the detrimental results of non-participation in the recommended level of exercise; nevertheless the appreciation of the adverse effects of sedentary behaviours on health is growing rapidly (Matthews et al., 2012) and resulted in this description – “Sitting is the New Smoking”.
Bearing in mind that smoking is actually at least twice as dangerous as sitting (Vallance et al., 2018), still we may be sitting ourselves to death. Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, aren’t the only health hazards that active couch potatoes face. The normal human state – to walk around the world as we work, gather food, and play, is progressively more alien to us. Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right. The American Institute for Cancer Research now links prolonged sitting with increased risk of both breast and colon cancers. Sitting for extended periods of time on a consistent basis at work or home could also be the root cause of many musculoskeletal injuries and back pain.
We are not built to sit for long periods. Sitting can cause muscle imbalances resulting in some muscles become extremely tight and others extremely weak. The main portion of the time spent sitting is attributable to work ….. the solution is as simple as standing up! If you’re hesitant about joining the standing community, you may want to try it out first. That’s not necessarily an attractive prospect if it involves the expense and time on getting a desk together. But there are options that that very little work so you can see how you feel about standing up at work before taking the plunge. You can DIY it! If you choose to stand at work, you’ll be in good company – Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway were all said to have used stand up desks. But I might move mine into the attic!
Matthews, C. E., George, S. M., Moore, S. C., Bowles, H. R., Blair, A., Park, Y., Troiano, R. P., Hollenbeck, A. and Schatzkin, A. (2012) ‘Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults’, Am J Clin Nutr, 95(2), pp. 437-45.
Morris, J. N., Heady, J. A., Raffle, P. A., Roberts, C. G. and Parks, J. W. (1953) ‘Coronary heart-disease and physical activity of work’, Lancet, 265(6795), pp. 1053-7; contd.
Owen, N., Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E. and Dunstan, D. W. (2010a) ‘Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior’, Exerc Sport Sci Rev, 38(3), pp. 105-13.
Owen, N., Sparling, P. B., Healy, G. N., Dunstan, D. W. and Matthews, C. E. (2010b) ‘Sedentary behavior: emerging evidence for a new health risk’, Mayo Clin Proc, 85(12), pp. 1138-41.
Vallance, J. K., Gardiner, P. A., Lynch, B. M., D’Silva, A., Boyle, T., Taylor, L. M., Johnson, S. T., Buman, M. P. and Owen, N. (2018) ‘Evaluating the Evidence on Sitting, Smoking, and Health: Is Sitting Really the New Smoking?’, Am J Public Health, 108(11), pp. 1478-1482.