An idea for getting more exercise into every day.
July 19, 2018
There is so much advice on how much exercise we should be doing.
Who knows what is the right advice. Or what is wrong advice.
And how do we assess ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ advice anyway?
There are so many considerations to answering this, and I have had so many people challenge me on ‘what is the evidence for your recommendation’ that I have decided that there is a better way to finding the right answer. And this applies not just to exercise: it applies to anything in life where we have a choice.
Addressing all the considerations of finding ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ are too much for this short post. I will address it in detail another day. Safe to say though that the subject forms part of my ‘Conversations with an Audience’ talks if you want to hear more or engage in open debate.
Back to the matter of getting more movement into every day.
I am no evolutionary scientist. But here is my thinking.
It is undeniable that we spend too much time sitting. We are creatures that were never built of lead a life this way. In the last 6-8 million years of evolution, since the first upright creature from which there is a strong line of evidence that we are descended, we spent most of our time running around, hunting, gathering, keeping warm, playing, tending to animals and to the earth. And a great many other activities that made the body work hard. Physically.
Sure, there were periods of rest too.
But it is only in the last 150 years (a nano second in evolutionary time) since the industrial revolution has the advent of significant time and labour-saving machines, processes and lifestyles impacted our lives. Things like mass production assembly lines, tractors for ploughing fields, cars & trains for going to work, computers & phones keeping us nailed to our desks, TV & cinema as forms of entertainment… The list goes on.
If I think of the average work commuter (I know there is no such thing as average, but please indulge me), their day might look like this:
- Get out of bed. Ablute;
- Sit down for breakfast;
- Get up & sit driving the car. For some, this might also progress to sitting on a train;
- Sit at a desk (for 4 hours);
- Sit at the desk for another 30 mins for lunch (work is typically too busy for a proper break);
- Sit at the desk for another 4 hours;
- The day might involve some meetings, sitting down too;
- Sit back in the car (perhaps also involving the train);
- Sit down for evening meal;
- Sit down in front of the TV. (And fall asleep);
- Go to bed.
Some people might manage to get to the gym during the day. I expect that most of us don’t make as much of this as we would like, perhaps because
- life gets in the way. Despite the personal promises, we don’t make it to the gym;
- the expense of gym membership;
- we dont exercise properly when we get there;
- we are not physically able.
And of course we could do other forms of exercise that better fit into life.
Such as walking: we could walk to work.
But again, some of us will have many reasons why this doesn’t work.
And is this cycling or walking, or going to the gym sufficient for our body’s needs anyway? Is the national recommendation of 10,000 daily steps right? Wrong? The minimum? To achieve what? Who knows?
What if we did things another way. What if we thought differently, so that the gym, cycling or walking session was just the icing on the cake. On top of a base level of physical work that we put the body through.
What if we just spent more of the day simply standing?
My standing day at work
The picture at the top of this blog is me standing at my ‘desk’ in my office. My ‘Caffe Nero office’.
Nothing sophisticated needed.
- a pile of books, acting as a computer stand, grabbed off the cafe shelves;
- And my phone. The stop clock is set at 25 minutes. When the buzzer sounds, I alternate between sitting down and standing up.
25 minutes means that I can allow myself 5 minutes in every half hour to take a break.
What if not in an office.
In a (Board) meeting?
- I still follow this routine. I am regularly in client meetings. At first they thought I was bonkers, but now they are talking about buying standing desks for their employees;
- If you can’t find a pile of books, use a cardboard box instead.
In front of the TV?
I still follow this routine.
Ditto on the train. Recently I travelled to Scotland. My son eventually got over his embarrassing father!
The only inappropriate place that quickly comes to mind is when driving. Another reason to drive less.
What is the good of standing, anyway
The ‘what is the evidence’ question had to get in here somewhere.
I am being a bit lazy here because I am quoting a single source. Ideally I would be giving you many sources. And I would give you the counter view too because at the end of the day I want to give balanced opinion so that you can make up your own mind: all evidence comes with some hidden bias somewhere. I am not infallible. I am not seeking to give you concrete argument, just my opinion, based on the weight of my experimentation, good old-fashioned logic and easily accessible 3rd party opinion. I will make a more robust argument for you on another day.
The one source of evidence: Dr Michael Mosley’s work.
Mosley’s work concludes on the specific good that standing does for us:
- Standing burns 50 calories per hour. So 3 hours a day for 5 days amounts to 750 calories burnt. Over a year this would add up to about 30,000 extra calories, burning around 8lb of fat;
- And in terms of activity levels this would be the equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year: just by standing up 3 hours in your work day.
Of course I am not pretending that standing has the same benefit as exercise that raises you heart rate. We should do this too.
But in my mind there is no doubt that standing
- works our muscles: constantly twitching and working to keep us upright; making the metabolism work; keeping our glucose management system working; keeping the muscles exercised and toned;
- puts loading on the bones, helping them remain strong.
Both of these benefits are increasingly important as we age. And having a good base level of muscle and bone health as got to be necessary if we are to embark on more arduous excercise.
And why wouldn’t we stand more:
- its costs us nothing;
- we can do it whilst completing the day’s other activities;
- most people are able to do it;
- it does us no harm.
It simply requires us to be more mindful, and less lazy, as we go about our days.
To your very best health.