Science suggests you can avoid productivity struggles and energy dips if you’re back to working from home by including short bursts of exercise in your day.
If you wear a fitness watch, you’re probably used to receiving a notification every 30 minutes telling you to stand up. It may seem excessive, considering most of us have to spend most weekdays sat at our desk in order to earn a living. But moving more often during the working day could have incredible health benefits and research suggests that just one or two minutes of movement could make a difference.
I’m someone who knows that only too well; I might not spend my time burpeeing by my desk, but I am the person who’s forever out moving around the (makeshift) office, and I’m more productive for it.
According to the NHS, many adults in the UK spend around 9 hours a day sitting, not including sleeping. And with most of us still working from home at least a couple of days a week, our step counts are only getting lower.
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So why is standing up and moving regularly so important? The link between health issues and long periods of sitting was first discovered in the 1950s when researchers found double-decker bus drivers were twice as likely to have heart attacks as their bus conductor colleagues. The drivers spent 90% of their working day sitting, much like those of us who work from home, whereas the conductors climbed about 600 stairs every day.
Other more recent studies have suggested that adults who spend more than 12 hours per day sitting down are at an increased risk for premature death and that getting up every half an hour could reduce the effects of prolonged sitting.
On top of long-term health issues, sedentary behaviour can also make us feel sluggish in the short-term, which, in turn, can negatively affect physical endurance, according to a 2018 report.
“Leading a largely sedentary lifestyle can affect our energy levels and make us feel tired and sluggish,” says Dr Stephanie Ooi, a GP at MyHealthcare Clinic. “Sleep quality can also be affected by prolonged periods of sitting which can result in us feeling more tired during the day too.”
Dr Ooi continues to explain that sedentary behaviour is often associated with other behaviours like increased screen time and poor diet, all of which can negatively impact our mental health and make us feel more tired.
The NHS suggests that breaking up long periods of sitting time with just one or two minutes of activity is enough, although they note that there is not enough evidence to set a time limit on how much time people should sit for each day.
As well as standing up, Dr Ooi suggests doing very short bursts of exercise as often as possible too. “Exercising might be the last thing you want to do if you are feeling tired but it might be just what you need,” she says. “Exercise releases endorphins, which are often referred to as ‘feel good hormones’ which can reduce stress and pain, ultimately helping us feel less sluggish.”
“Whether it’s 10 press-ups or a quick walk up and down some stairs, a couple of minutes of exercise at regular intervals can provide a much-needed reset and energy boost as well as helping with concentration and alertness,” explains Dr Ooi.
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How to start moving every 30 minutes
When I committed to getting up every 30 minutes, I was worried about how it might interrupt my workflow. My working hours are 9am-5:30pm which means I have to stand up about up 15 times throughout the day. However, I soon found that these minor disruptions are absolutely worth it, as I pretty much always return to my desk feeling refreshed.
I try to keep my breaks to a couple of minutes – any more and I do find it difficult to get back to work. Here’s an example of what a typical working day looks like for me with regular movement:
I prep for the day and then get up to make a cup of tea before my morning meeting.
Morning meeting over, I tend to get up and make my breakfast, as I find I can’t eat too early in the morning, and eat it at my desk.
By this point, I’ve probably already had a glass of water and a cup of tea, so I get up to go to the toilet.
This is the period when I’m probably least tempted to not stand up in the morning, as I’m usually deep into a piece of work. At this point, I’ll probably do something around the flat like wash my dishes or take the bins out.
Definitely time to make a pre-lunch cup of tea.
And now my second toilet trip of the working day!
I’m probably feeling fairly ready for my lunch break by now, so I’ll grab a snack or go and chat to one of my flatmates for a couple of minutes to wake myself up.
Lunch time! I almost always head out on a walk or a run on my hour lunch for at least 30 minutes, as well as making something to eat.
I have another meeting at 2:45pm so I’ll make myself another cup of tea (herbal this time) or grab some more water.
This is probably my most sluggish period of the day so I actually like to practise my handstands at this point. I’m learning to do handstand push-ups at the moment and I find that being upside down weirdly helps me concentrate.
Another water refill (and maybe a toilet break).
Just over an hour to go until the end of the working day and I’m probably feeling a little bit tired again. At this point, I usually put on my favourite song – at the moment it’s Rumours by Lizzo – and dance around for the duration of it.
Either a final refuel snack or I’ll go and collect the post that I’ve inevitably left sat downstairs all day.
With only 15 minutes left of work, I like to take this time to stretch and tidy up my workspace before finishing off my work for the day.
By the time I’ve gone to the toilet, refilled my water and done household tasks, there is very little to fill my movement bursts with and I always look forward to the afternoon breaks when I get to move properly, either upside down or dancing around my living room.
Check out plenty of other bodyweight exercises you could do by your desk over in the Strong Women Training Club How-To library.
Images: Alice Porter
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