We all know that smoking, drinking, and stress are bad for us, but evidence is emerging that shows that physical inactivity is associated with a heightened risk of serious illness and death.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), insufficient physical activity has become the fourth biggest risk factor for mortality in the world, with approximately 3.2 million deaths a year attributable to insufficient physical activity.
Steven Blair from the University of South Carolina, and one of the most highly cited exercise scientists globally states: “Physical inactivity is one of the most important public health problems of the 21st century and may even be the most important.” A study he led of 54,000 people – published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine – showed that that physical inactivity increased the risk of early death and was greater than the risks of smoking, diabetes, and obesity combined.
Worldwide, levels of inactivity are increasing. We sit during our work commute, at work, and then come home and sit watching TV. So, what can we do to get enough physical activity? The trick, says Dr. Helen Okoye, medical expert and spokesperson for the World Thrombosis Day (WTD) campaign, is to build movement into every part of your day. “We all know that a session of exercise, like going to the gym, is good for us but the real impact lies in incorporating lots of regular movement into every part of your day, whether you’re at home or work,” she says.
During the day, consciously take short breaks to move around. Remind yourself to stand up and stretch and get everyone in the family to do so, too. Make movement fun by taking a few dance breaks as you cook or fold the washing. “Put on your favourite music and dance around for a few minutes. It’s a great way to boost your mood and get your heart rate up,” advises Dr. Okoye.
Get into the habit of standing up when you get a phone call and walking around the room while you chat. If you’re watching TV, place the remote away from you so that you need to stretch to reach it, and when there are ad breaks on, get up and do a quick chore.
“It’s easier to make movement a daily habit when you find activities that you genuinely like,” advises Dr. Okoye. Choose hobbies that involve physical activity, such as cycling, hiking, or playing a sport. This way, you’re not just exercising for the sake of it; you’re doing something you enjoy.
If you have a garden, spend time tending to it. Digging, planting, and weeding are all physical activities that contribute to movement. All these short periods of movement add up and make a difference. In fact, research released in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that an active daily life that contains lots of activities that aren’t specifically dubbed “exercise” (such as gardening) can prolong your lifespan.
We tend to get so engrossed in work that hours pass by without us getting up from our desks. This can be problematic, warns Dr. Okoye. Not only does your concentration wane if you work for long stretches of time, but your blood circulation also slows down.
“When you’re sedentary for too long, your blood flow slows, which can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), where clots form in the legs. If a part of the blood clot breaks off it can travel to the lungs, forming a pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be fatal. Just getting up and moving around to get your circulation going again is a simple, effective way to reduce that risk,” she cautions.
Set a timer to remind you to get up every hour and walk around for a bit. Sprinkling in extra bouts of physical activity during your workday will undoubtedly benefit your wellbeing. Instead of sitting in a conference room with a colleague, suggest having a walking meeting. When you’re seated at your desk, incorporate simple, discreet exercises, such as ankle circles, leg raises and shoulder rolls. During lunch, go for another short walk – the fresh air and exercise will also help to boost your creativity and productivity.
In your exercise routine
Being active can do much to boost your health, with strong evidence showing that conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity can be prevented or managed by doing 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity five days a week.
Here again, recommends Dr. Okoye, find a form of exercise that you enjoy. Join group fitness classes, such as dance, yoga, or spinning – the group atmosphere can make the experience more enjoyable. Or inject fun into exercise by taking dance classes in styles like salsa, hip-hop, or ballroom. Dancing is not only a fantastic workout but also a great way to express yourself.
Another trick is to start a fitness challenge with colleagues or friends, suggests Dr. Okoye. This could involve tracking steps, active minutes, or a specific exercise routine. According to research from Harvard University, adults should aim for roughly 4,400 steps per day to significantly cut mortality risk.
Remember, concludes Dr. Okoye, the key is to find activities you genuinely enjoy, as you’re more likely to stick with them. Small, consistent efforts throughout the day can add up to significant health benefits over time.