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Move away from the killer chairs!

September 14, 2010

Take a seat.  No, on second thoughts stand up and jiggle about to read this.  Two studies from the USA, a decade apart, highlight the peril that lurks beneath us. 

A paper by Lars Bo Anderson and colleagues, published by the American Medical Association in Archives of Internal Medicine (160:1621-1628) in 2000, looked at the risks associated with physical inactivity.  Physical activity at work, sports participation and bicycling to work were all considered.  The researchers undertook a prospective study, beginning with a random sample of 13,375 women and 17,265 men.  They sought to ascertain the whether physical inactivity posed a consistent threat in different demographic groups.   Follow-up fourteen years later identified 2,881 deaths in the women and 5,668 in the men.   Headline results include that, compared with the sedentary, physically active groups showed between 0.68 (lowest level of activity versus  a sedentary lifestyle) and 0.53 (most active) of the age- and sex-adjusted mortality rates.  That would be about half.   

The team’s analysis of physical activity at work took into consideration features such as primarily sitting at a desk or housework not involving children and with domestic help (the lowest level of activity); sitting and standing with some walking, such as teaching or housework); walking, with some lifting (e.g. postal work or housework with young children); and, at the upper end of the scale, heavy manual work.  A similar categorisation of leisure pursuits was also used. 

For women, greater physical activity at work was associated with a decreased mortality rate.  However, for men, the paper reports no difference in age-adjusted mortality rates in regard to different levels of workplace physical activity.  Interesting, and maybe reassuring given that so many may use the demise of physical activity in work as an explanation of illness. 

The authors stated that the ‘major findings of this large-scale epidemiological study were that in both sexes and in all age groups there was a lower mortality in the physically active compared with the inactive.’ 

A second study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2010 (172(4): 419-429), examined the impact of sedentary leisure on mortality.  Alpa Patel and colleagues surveyed time spent sitting as well as physical activity in a large sample (53,440 men and 69,776 women who were all disease free at the time the project began).  Fourteen years later, 11,307 of the men and 7,923 of the women had died.  The team found that, after allowing for a range of other factors, such as smoking, body mass index and physical activity, time spent sitting was associated with mortality in both men and women.  Cardiovascular disease was most strongly associated with sitting.  Sedentariness was independently associated with mortality, regardless of the level of physical activity.  The authors concluded that ‘public health messages should include both being physically active and reducing time spent sitting’.

We are undoubtedly complex animals, and the mechanisms in play will have many contributory factors.  Given that so many of the modern workforce now spend a large part of their working day (not to mention their travel to work and leisure) seated, some form of movement might be a good idea.  Long duration sitting, as in long-haul air travel, is notoriously associated with the rare but serious threat of DVT or deep vein thrombosis.  Studies such as the ones mentioned here point to another, and possibly more prevalent, form of DVT.  That is ‘Desk-bound Vitality Threat’.   Concerns about posture at workstations seems to me only the small part of the picture.  However ‘ergonomic’ the alignment may be, movement is what is required and not some fixed and optimised structural arrangement.  Even though actually getting up and roaming about may be unfeasible for lots of office workers, the onboard exercises promoted for air travel suggest that something can be done.  And Andrew Bellamy has suggested on the 100 Rep Challenge site a ‘covert’ routine of isometric exercises that can be performed whilst seated, virtually anywhere. 

As anthropologist and 21st century physical culturist Frank Forencich put it in the frontispiece to his 2006 book Exuberant Animal,

‘Before beginning a program of physical inactivity, consult your doctor. Sedentary living is abnormal and dangerous to your health.’

Time for that walk, and maybe better grab a bottle for the water cooler while you are at it.

Large-scale study of the effect of low-impact exercise on employee well-being

September 9, 2010

A press release from colleagues in the Centre of Organizational Health & Wellbeing at Lancaster University describes the outcome of a study on a group of 260 employees of Nestlé UK who took part in the 2009 Global Corporate Challenge.  Over a period of about four months they basically walked a lot more than they had been doing.  For the challenge, each person aimed to log 10,000 steps a day.  In the end they averaged 12,850 steps, quoted in the study as equalling 8.2km. 

While it is not surprising that participants reported better concentration, better decision making, more enjoyment of life, improved self-confidence and enhanced productivity, what interests me is the involvement of a major multinational in a study of this type. 

You can read the full story here:

Walking is wonderful, and is certainly the foundation of my daily movement practice (thanks in no small part to my 14-year old collie cross, Corrie).  But, given that it might take an hour or more to cover the extra steps over and above their routine daily movement, this sort of thing asks a lot of a busy person.  I’ll posit that an equal effect would be generated from a ‘100 reps’ approach (see related post), which is going to be more varied, more interesting, and more likely to produce a long-term behavioural change with enduring benefit.  What do you think?

100 reps

September 8, 2010

An ‘easy’ route to enhanced personal fitness and a partial compensation for the deficit of NEPA (non-exercise physical activity) in the daily lives of many of us.  Our grandparents chopped wood, washed clothes by hand (or hand-mangle), walked a lot, they even used a typewriter if they typed at all.  If you need more NEPA, read on …

If you want to join an online community that will give you motivation to start or maintain a healthy exercise practice, check out the 100 reps site launched by my kettlebells teacher Rannoch Donald of Simple Strength.The idea is simple. Every day you do 100 repetitions of something that gets your body moving. Hard or easy, it’s up to you to set the limits. Everything from 100 purposeful breaths to pushing a car 100 yards – you decide! Might be a good way to deal with the onset of autumn, especially if you suffer from ‘winter blues’, as I do. See web site and facebook group. Don’t worry about all the boxers and mixed martial artists – they’re lovely people – and there’s plenty of desk jockeys like me too … 😉

Let me know how you get on. What do you do to keep yourself fit, for business, and for life?

 The numbers add up pretty quickly. Call it 100 days to Christmas if you like. That is 10,000 reps at 100 a day (over and above all your other activity)!

On an individual basis, I know that I am looking forward to having another 36,500 reps under my feet by this time next year, along with a load of other practice. And, looking back, I can remember years when I did none. I know which makes me happier, more fulfilled, and more productive.


July 17, 2010

I cannot remember when I first encountered the concept, though I know it is popular in traithlon, but I find “headroom” increasingly relavant to me.  A while back I was explaining to my chi running teacher that I practiced a lot of weightlifting.  She explained that from her perspective there was no need for such exertions.  Instead, one should be able to use core strength and chi to achieve whatever strength feats one needed.  I responded that my life required strength.  At the time, with two sons both under two years of age, I had a lot of physical demands on me.  A typical strength test would go like this.  A dark night, wind and rain.  A sleeping child strapped into a car seat to be extricated (and surely there must be a special fire in Hell for the “designers” of child car seat).  Also a bag of shopping to haul.  The keys to locate, a door to be opened, over-enthusiastic dogs to side-step, and an entrance to be made.  Total weight maybe 15kg, but leverage considerable, especially when stretching to get son out of his seat.

That’s why being able to do a decent deadlift is necessary.  Stess-free, in a warm and well-lit gymn, with a balanced and symmetrical load that is designed to be dropped, I should be able to generate force, brace my core, and utilise good biomechanics.  That gives me headroom: being able to move far more than the simple weights that daily life throws at me, and thus able to cope with the randomness of precious, asymmetrical, wriggly loads under less-than-ideal conditions.  Plenty of headroom – no injuries!

If your average working load during the day is a 12 ounce journal or a polystyrene cup of coffee, and if you have ever pulled a muscle doing domestic chores, do you need more headroom?

Academics – exercise!

June 23, 2010

A blog for desk-jockeys in academia, the office, and on the road.  For those seeking information, stimulation, and light relief on wellness, movement and related matters.  Future posts will review my experience with Vibram five fingers footwear; the joy of kettlebells; the 100 reps movement started by Rannoch Donald of Simple Strength; fun with a sandbag; and other matters related to the new physical culture of the 21st century.

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