I have always been active. In childhood, there were muddy cross-country races and long summer bike rides. Later came Jazzercise and Boxercise, which were fun and cheesy 1980’s creations. Throughout mid-adulthood, running brought me hours of pleasure whilst boosting my mood and confidence.
I also had active occupations until a few years ago when I became a mental health researcher. My job is fascinating, but I am increasingly aware of a large downside. I am sitting for excessive periods of time, which I can’t counteract by the odd run or body combat class. And, I am not alone. A Government report on physical activity concluded that one in two women and a third of men in England are damaging their health through inactivity. This shocking statistic is a stark reminder of the sedentary nature of our modern lives.
The human body is not designed to sit all day. Research from the reputable Lancet journal (1) demonstrates a link between inactivity and a host of frightening diseases including cancer, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. Other common ailments linked to inactivity include lower back and knee pain, and obesity. Regular activity can help guard against these physical health problems. Recent studies (2) also highlight important mental health benefits of activity. Being active reduces the likelihood of depression, and is an effective way of burning off stress and increasing self-esteem.
Last year I started to experience the consequences of having a sedentary job. They crept up subtly through the back door of my awareness until my stiff legs made me resemble the tin man on a bad day. One day, my partner, no doubt fed up of the constant griping, presented me with a Fitbit. Prior to receiving this unexpected gift, I had mentally poured scorn on individuals who insisted on regaling people with their daily step count. I guess I thought, “I’m not going to be told when to get up and move around!” Now, I see that, at least until I establish new habits, I do need to be reminded to get up and move around.
Benefits of using an activity monitor:
Having used my Fitbit for a couple of months, I am aware of several benefits:
- The hourly vibrations remind me to step away from the desk and re-set my brain. In other words, I use these times to practice mindfulness.
- Regular micro-breaks give me an opportunity to reconnect with nature. This act always improves my mood, even if just temporarily. Going outside is admittedly easier on a beautiful summer’s day, though I vow to continue my trips outside throughout winter.
- By encouraging me to go on walkabout, I experience more chance encounters with my colleagues. This provides a perfect opportunity to let off steam and reconnect with mankind. This sounds crazy, but previously I could sit in my office all day and not speak to a single soul.
- Hourly breaks seemed like a nuisance at first, though I soon got used to them. Further, research demonstrates that regular breaks increase productivity (3). It perhaps too early for me to comment on this one, but I certainly haven’t detected a decrease in productivity.
- Finally, I no longer feel like the tin man on a regular basis. To maximise physical benefits try incorporating little stretching routines; these have the added bonus of amusing your colleagues.
So, there you have it. I am a Fitbit convert!
- Impact of Physical Inactivity on the World’s Major Non-Communicable Diseases. (2012). Lancet, 380 (9838): 219-229.
- Associations between self-rated health, mental health problems and physical inactivity among urban adolescents, European Journal of Public Health, 1-6.
- Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements. Cognition, 118, 3. 439-443.
Find out more or buy a Fitbit: