Stand, stretch, move...

Sitting or staying in one position for long periods can harm your health and wellbeing according to experts. Here's how you can get moving, whatever your mobility and fitness levels.

Are you reading this sitting down? Chances are, you are.

Research shows that on average in England, people of working age now spend a staggering 9.5 hours of their waking day sitting – whether at a desk or workbench, in the car, or relaxing on the sofa (a figure that increases as we age).

Shockingly, however, numerous studies have also discovered that sitting for prolonged periods may also increase the risk of other serious – and sometimes fatal – health conditions, including cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and even poor mental wellbeing.

You may be a regular walker, runner or workout fan, and government guidelines do recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week. However, while physical activity and exercise sessions are important, it’s the prolonged time we spend actually sitting that’s the problem.

‘Our bodies are designed to be active,’ explains Leanne Antoine, spokesperson for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. ‘Movement helps them work better – from digesting food and aiding recovery after injury, to keeping them flexible and strong.’ So, it goes without saying that fitness plays a huge part in our physical wellbeing. The role being active plays in mental health shouldn’t be overlooked either.

While doing desk jobs means we might not be able to get enough moderate intensity exercise during our working hours, experts recommend we stand up at least every half an hour and move around for a few minutes. Contrary to popular belief, this won’t interrupt your concentration or productivity. ‘A short mental break combined with movement will actually refresh your thought process,’ says Leanne. ‘If you can get outside, too, so much the better: fresh air improves mood, energy levels and oxygen flow through the body.’

Whether you’re working from home or at the office, make sure you keep it in mind to get to your feet periodically to keep body and mind healthy.

If you are working at home on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to keep your home insurance cover up to date so you’re covered for things like accidental damage to computers.

Move more, every day

Improve your health – with these simple strategies.

  1. When you’re relaxing on the sofa, use TV ad breaks as a cue to get up and stretch, or do a few floor exercises. Similarly, at your desk or workstation, set an alarm to go off every 30 minutes to remind you to stand and move.
  2. Build simple stretches or movements into routine tasks around the house, be it washing up or cooking. Stretch your limbs, do some squats and calf raises, touch your toes and roll your shoulders...
  3. If you’re in a work environment, suggest ‘walk and talk’ meetings around the block or down the corridor with a colleague, rather than standard sit-down catch-ups or lunchbreaks.
  4. Think about the activities you normally do sitting down, and switch them up. Maybe use your mobile phone for a chat with a friend when you’re out walking, or try listening to an audiobook on the move instead of curled up in an armchair.
  5. Break up long car journeys with a few breaks to stretch your limbs, and when possible, park a little way from your destination so you have to walk to it. And if you need to use public transport, stand whenever possible.
  6. If your mobiity is reduced and it’s difficult to stand, it’s still important to build regular seated exercise into your day, so talk to your practitioner. The NHS has suggestions for simple, gentle moves you can do while seated in a chair, designed to help build your strength and flexibility.
  7. Drink lots of water throughout the day. Not only is it good for you, it means you’ll frequently be forced to get up to use the loo!
  8. The NHS has guidelines and more ideas for staying active, whatever your fitness and mobility levels, or if you haven’t exercised for a long time.