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HEALTHWISE - The Sunday Age
October 26, 2008
Don’t just sit there: even a walk across the room helps keep the weight off
says Paula Goodyer.
Russell Crowe says that his main strategy for stacking on extra weight for his movie Body of Lies was being
more sedentary. But most of us don’t need the motivation of movie contracts to seduce us into a sitting position:
it happens naturally. Calculate the time sitting in front of a computer each day and, for anyone with a desk job, it
can easily add up to most of your waking hours. Can a 30-minute walk really compensate for spending 12 hours a day on a
But research in Australia and overseas has shown that small movements can help combat weight gain. First, there were
the Mayo Clinic researchers, in the US, who compared the movements of lean people with those of obese people and found
an interesting difference. Skinnier people spent about 2 hours a day on small movements such as getting up and down,
pacing and generally fidgeting, which ate up an extra 1400 kilojoules a day.
Meanwhile, a University of Queensland study has found that the more time people spend sitting down, the larger their
waist measurement and the higher their blood-sugar levels. But the more time they spend putting out the garbage or
folding laundry, the healthier their waist measurement and the lower their blood sugar.
Why is the little stuff so important? The theory is that even small movements make you contract your muscles, and
muscles use up blood sugar for fuel, explains University of Queensland researcher Dr Genevieve Healy.
So, if much of your working day involves sitting, how do you fight back? One strategy is the adjustable desk
that allows you to either sit or stand while you work. Called an electric sit-stand desk, it lets you instantly change
its height with the push of button so you can stand up to talk on the phone, for instance.
Although more popular in Europe, the idea is taking off here. Rick Clancy, managing director of Auzspec, a
supplier of sit stand desks, says sales are beginning to grow, driven by the idea that changing position is a better
way to work, especially for people such as lawyers, who put in long hours at a desk.
So far, the small amount of research on sit-stand desks suggests they may help prevent musculo-skeletal
problems caused by too much sitting.
But they’re also a way of adding some extra movement that may be a more realistic option to the desk that
incorporates a treadmill, allowing you to walk and work – the brainchild of one of the researchers on the Mayo
Clinic’s fidgeting study.
But what’s really important is to catch yourself sitting. Be conscious of how many hours you spend seated each
day – and if there are too many, find more reasons to get up and do something.
- Remember that sitting down for eight hours or more (as many of us do each day at work) can make you feel so
physically tired that all you want to do is – sit.
- If your job is sedentary, find as many reasons to get up as possible: make tea, go to the loo, speak to a
colleague, or take a break and walk up and down a few stairs.
- If you’ve been sitting all day, try to spend more time standing or moving around in the evening.
- Find ways to move in front of TV: do the ironing or some stretches.
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