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Dr Declan Ryan shares the pitfalls of sitting too much

Date 25.01.2021

Lockdowns and working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic have made many of us quickly adjust to more sedentary lifestyles. In this blog, Dr Declan Ryan, Lecturer in Exercise Physiology, shares his thoughts on the pitfalls of sitting for too long and his top tips to help your body stay well.

The abrupt disappearance of our commutes and the dash across campus between buildings, has led to a drastic increase in time spent sitting, with new research from Fitbit showing that physical activity levels have dropped by a whopping 15% during lockdowns.

Physical fitness levels can drop off within weeks, muscle breakdown can start in as little as a couple of days, and aches and pains start to creep in. Dr Declan Ryan recommends you should take stock of your movements, using fitness and steps tracker apps for mobile phones. Declan said: “Health apps can give you a good basis for understanding what your levels of movement are in a day, you might be amazed to see how few steps you’re doing while working from home.

“You can then use this as a focus and motivation to move a little more, each day, and before you know it, you’ll be at 6-10, 000 steps, which is a good goal if you’ve found you’re moving less in lockdown. It’s important not to worry about trying to attain a certain heart rate or intensity of your activity – every additional step will be beneficial to you, so embrace the opportunity to get outside and enjoy walk, whether that’s for three minutes or three hours, every step counts”

With our workdays spend flitting between screens and calls, we have the potential to fall into the habit of not taking screen breaks or changing position frequently enough for our bodies. Couple that with the virtual social lives we’re leading too, it’s really draining for your body.

Declan suggests taking a quick walk, even around the house, without picking up a phone, is a good way to rest some parts of the body, while you work others with your walk. He said: “Our bodies are designed to adapt quickly to what we’re doing to them. The aches and pains caused by sitting at a desk can set in quickly, but with just a small amount of effort on your part, your body will thank you.”

In a reminder, Declan said that if you’re spending time at your desk, be sure to regularly change position, you should aim to walk for two minutes for each 30-60 minutes spent at your desk. If you can’t leave the desk, the NHS has some helpful desk-based exercises.

As a call to action for all of us, Declan believes it’s important to give yourself permission to get outside and take that lunch break. Our bodies need fresh air and Vitamin D, enough of this has real physical and mental health benefits. The odd hello and smile exchanged with passers-by can perk you up too.

Regardless of whether you’re older or younger, physically fit, or wanting to move more, Declan believes that finding a way to establish a routine and schedule of healthy habits, with a return to movement is key to surviving this pandemic. He said: “It’s important to make sure that you have a positive relationship and experiences of physical activity, that will help you to make the activity sustainable.”

Top tips to make the most out of the world around you

Check out Strava heatmap, which can give you insights into where other people are walking and running near you, it can help you find new routes, or follow quieter routes.

Northamptonshire walks have excellent guides to local walks, with detailed instructions if you want to explore.

If two wheels are your thing, Cycle Northants have a comprehensive list of cycle routes.

The UON Geography team have a weekly #geographychallenge, to get you looking at your surrounding while you’re out and about.

The UON Sports and Exercise Science team have a great blog full of more tips, exercises for you, and your family (young and old).