From head to toe, our bodies adapt to accommodate our devices.
Most US workers spend most of each workday sitting and looking at screens.
We have thus placed ourselves in a slow-moving health crisis marked by alarming rates of premature diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).
Also, at the end of most days, even though it’s not the preferred medical terminology, we just feel like crap.
Most of us ignore the persistent, buzzing reminders on our smartwatches to get up and get moving.
Others work out before heading to our desks, mistakenly assuming that early morning sweats make up for the hours ahead.
And then there are standing desk students, which unfortunately won’t fix our erratic blood sugar and lipid (fat) levels.
Scientists at Columbia University Medical Center in the United States found that the minimum amount of movement needed to offset the damage from our sedentary lives found that five minutes of gentle walking every half hour does the trick.
It’s easy to do if you’re in a controlled study at a Columbia exercise lab, where a clinician taps your shoulder every 30 minutes and leads you from your laptop to a two-mile-per-hour (3.2 kilometers per hour) treadmill. )
But what about in the real world?
Is it possible to add regular movement breaks to our deadline filled days?
Sure, we can tolerate exercise, but what about interruptions?
In real life
That’s what we tried to find out in three weeks this fall with an unusual project. National Public Radio (NPR) listeners were asked to join a study by the same Columbia researchers to see if they could incorporate regular movement breaks, or “snacks.” their day and report why they could … or couldn’t.
READ ALSOCan’t find 30 minutes to exercise? Try a “fitness snack” instead.
Over 20,000 people signed up (the system almost crashed).
Here is what we found out.
>: Movement disorders also improve mental health
Participants were in a better mood on days they took movement breaks, reporting more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions.
They also felt more energetic, reporting an average of 25% reduction in fatigue.
READ ALSOAddress those mental health symptoms by exercising
>: Breaks didn’t hurt performance
Participants reported feeling more engaged in their work and showed slight improvements in the quantity and quality of work on days they took movement breaks.
>: But making time for frequent breaks is difficult
Many participants struggled to take movement breaks from their daily routines every half hour.
Only half reported being able to take breaks that often.
Commonly cited barriers were pressure to be productive at work, feeling too busy to relax, and concerns about violating workplace cultural norms.
Participants found that taking movement breaks every hour or two was more realistic and less disruptive to their daily lives, with 70% to 80% of participants reporting taking regular breaks at these intervals.
However, feeling too busy and work performance pressures were still regularly reported as barriers to even these less frequent breaks.
Our findings show that public interest and participation in research is critical to identifying barriers to movement breaks and developing real solutions.
But we hope this project also catalyzes a broader conversation about a cultural reset that will require a collective effort.
We don’t have to accept sacrificing our overall mental and physical well-being just because society has settled down.
Now that everyone knows that too much sitting is bad, what if it was acceptable to stand up and shuffle around in an endless Zoom meeting?
Instead of admonishing kids about screen time, what if we asked them if they get their “walk time” every day?
We used to take smoke breaks, and these days few of us bat an eye if someone is looking at their phone during a meeting.
Behavior, good and bad, is often contagious, but we need workplaces and schools to willingly collaborate to create time and space for movement.
Our institutions should encourage anyone who wants to change their relationship with the chair and devices.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that if we stay this sedentary, about 500 million people will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other non-communicable diseases this decade, costing governments US$27 billion (RM126 billion) a year.
Just as important, we will leave behind the disembodied form that most of us live right now, denying the next generation the simple joys of feeling strong, healthy and mobile. – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service
Manush Zomorodi is an NPR host TED Radio Hour and its creator Body electric series. Keith Diaz is an associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and director of the Exercise Testing Laboratory at the Columbia Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health.
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