During this lockdown we are staying at home more than we are used to—spending most of our days sitting and lying down, maybe moving from the living room to the bathroom, then perhaps to the kitchen, and then back to the living room! As PhD students, we are trying to work on our projects, and this requires very long hours of sitting, thus increasing sedentary behaviours.
A bit academical, the definition of sedentary behavior is “the time spent sitting or lying with low energy expenditure, while awake, in the context of occupational, educational, home and community settings and transportation” (WHO, 2020). Physical activity, on the other hand, is any movement of the body that results in the action of skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure. Exercise is a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and its objective is to improve a component(s) of physical fitness (WHO, 2020).
During the current COVID-19 Lockdown, time dedicated to movement has significantly decreased. For example, if you monitor how many steps you take in a day, you can probably have a look at your step count and see how it has decreased. Some sources say that the decrease could be more than 50%! For those of us who used to go the University to work, that journey typically implied some walking or cycling before and after the workday. Now that has vanished, and even though we could go out for an hour of exercise during the day, some might not be doing it, further reducing the chance of mobilizing our bodies. In addition, in our homes, most of us may not have the appropriate space to work for long hours, which means many of us could be adopting postures that might be harmful to our body.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all adults perform regular physical activity, recommending 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week. It is also recognized that adults need to do exercises to strengthen the muscles at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days per week. The WHO also suggests it is better to do some activity than none and recommends starting with small amounts of physical activity and gradually increase duration, frequency and intensity over time.
It is widely known that being physically active benefits both physicality and mentality. Usually, the physical benefits are the ones that are more promoted as they can be seen with more relative speed. The overall health improvement that exercising can bring includes the decrease of risk for all-cause mortality, incident CVD, site-specific incident cancer, incident type-2 diabetes, and hypertension. These are the benefits associated with lowering the risk to develop diseases, but there is also an association with prevention of weight gain, reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms and their development over time, and improvement in sleep and health-related quality of life outcomes, a recognized improvement in cognition and brain function, and a reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment (WHO, 2020).
Interestingly, the risk decreases more when we increase our exposure to physical activity to at least 3 to 5 times the amounts of moderate to vigorous physical recommended in 2010, which was 150 minutes per week.
It might be redundant, but evidence suggests sedentary behaviours increase the risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease incidence and type-2 diabetes incidence. There is also evidence that higher amounts of physical activity can attenuate the positive association between being sedentary and having worse health outcomes.
In plain words, to ensure we experience better health, we need to try to move more during the day. If the recommendation is 150–300 minutes per week of moderate intensity, this could be translated to 21–42 minutes per day! And to put it easier, the WHO acknowledges it is also a good practice to do the activity in bouts of 10 minutes! Which means that you would need 2-4 bouts per day! 😊
You might not have a routine, but to ensure that you are moving throughout the whole day I recommend the following:
- Upon waking up, try to do 10 minutes of the following:
- Go for a short walk where you feel that you are walking fast
- Do some tabata exercises:
- Choose an exercise and do it for 20 seconds and rest 10 seconds; repeat this 8 times.
- Rest 60 seconds
- Choose another exercise and do it also for 20 seconds and rest 10 seconds; repeat this 8 times.
- The exercise you can choose can be squats, lunges, sit-ups, crunches, jumping jacks, glute bridges, jumping, burpees, high knees, etc. (you can always google them)
- Go up and down in your stairs if you have in the place where you live
- Do some yoga
- Once you start working, try to stand up at least every hour and stretch a little bit
- Try to drink lots of water (2-3 liters) so you feel the urge to go to the toilet
- Prepare a nice cup of tea to treat yourself
- Stretch your neck, your shoulders, your legs
- After two or three hours of work you can do another 10 minutes of what I wrote above
- Perhaps after finishing your entire working day, you can do another 10 or 20 minutes of the following:
- Either what I mentioned above
- Go for a brisk walk
- Go for a short run
- Dance or play
- WHO (2020) “Physical Activity”, World Health Organization (retrieved online) Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/physical-activity#tab=tab_1
- WHO (2020) “Physical Activity and Adults”, World Health Organization (retrieved online) Available at: https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/
- WHO (2020) “Public consultation on the draft WHO Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior for children and adolescents, adults and older adults 2020”, World Health Organization (retrieved online) Available at: who.int/news-room/articles-detail/public-consultation-on-the-draft-who-guidelines-on-physical-activity-and-sedentary-behaviour-for-children-and-adolescents-adults-and-older-adults-2020