An expert explains why you should make walking meetings a regular part of your working week.
“We are sitting ourselves to death,” Dr James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, dramatically declared to the LA Times in 2014. Dr Levine, credited with coining the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”, claimed that we lose two hours of life for every hour we sit.
While many dispute the claim that sitting is comparable to smoking, it’s clear that too much time spent on our derrières is bad for our health. “Our understanding about sitting and its effects on health are changing all the time,” says Dr Josephine Chau, Senior Lecturer in Health Systems and Populations at Macquarie University.
“At the moment, the research evidence suggests that high levels of sitting time are associated with higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and some cancers. Laboratory experiments show that breaking up continuous periods of sitting has benefits on a range of metabolic biomarkers, like blood glucose.”
Too much time sitting has also been associated with other health issues including poor digestion, weak leg and gluteal muscles, back problems, and anxiety and depression.
Sitting is a relatively new health issue that has emerged as modern life has become increasingly sedentary – especially if you work in an office. Few would dispute the fact that Australian adults need to increase the amount of activity they do during the day.
“If you are physically active and do 60 to 75 minutes of exercise a day, then your physical activity will cancel the harms of high sitting time – over 8 hours a day,” says Dr Chau. “Unfortunately, about one-third of Australians do less than 30 minutes a day of physical activity and for these people strategies to increase moving and reduce sitting are needed. Currently, the Australian national guidelines recommend that adults limit the amount of time they spend in prolonged sitting and break up prolonged periods of sitting as much as possible.”
If you are physically active and do 60 to 75 minutes of exercise a day, then your physical activity will cancel the harms of high sitting time – over 8 hours a day.
An increasingly popular way for office workers to get on their feet at work is the walking meeting, where you ditch the meeting room and catch up on the move.
Dr Chau believes walking meetings are a great idea. “They’re best suited for meetings which don’t involve too many people or reference materials. I like to have walking telephone calls on my mobile, and this is quite easy to do: plug in some headphones and step outside for some fresh air and sunshine – assuming the weather is suitable.”
Head for an area away from noise or traffic, she advises. “If you need to take notes, you could take a pen and a small sheet of paper or notebook or use an app on your mobile device.”
A walking meeting can become unwieldy if too many people are involved. “For meetings with more than five people, or where you need to look at different documents or view a presentation, have a standing meeting,” suggests Dr Chau. If that isn’t an option, incorporate a short walk or stretch break during the meeting. “Some studies show that a set of squats or calf raises is an effective way to break up prolonged sitting,” she says.
Walking and standing meetings aren’t the only ways to reduce sitting at work.
Tips for reducing sitting time at work
“The important thing to remember when using standing desks is that the ergonomic set up of your standing desk should be safe for you to use when sitting or standing,” says Dr Chau. “It is also important to remember to alternate between sitting and standing regularly, because holding your body in one posture – whether sitting or standing – for prolonged periods could cause musculoskeletal discomfort.”
Take regular breaks
Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take a break from your desk at least every hour.
Take the long route
Use any excuse to break up the time you spend seated at your desk during the day: use the furthest away bin, bathroom and printer, book a meeting room on a different floor and take the stairs, or regularly fill your water bottle.