In the recent months, many of us have been staying indoors more than ever. Some have managed to use the time to take up yoga while others have been too lazy to even get up to buy food. But while we laugh at this uncanny description of ourselves, we must know that a sedentary lifestyle may be one of the most insidious causes of many physical and mental ailments that we face today.
Without the breaks we take during daily commutes, we spend more time sitting and working in front of our laptops. Without having colleagues to talk to during breaks, we watch more television and spend more time on our phones. And before we know it, we stop giving our bodies the stimulation that it needs.
How do I know if my life is too sedentary?
“Sedentary behaviour can be defined as any activity that involves sitting, reclining, or lying down, with an energy expenditure of 1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs) or less,” says Dr Phoon Chiu Yong, Family Physician at Healthway Medical.
This commonly includes watching television, playing video games, using the mobile phone or computer for long hours. ” If you are sitting for more than six hours a day, this may be a cause for concern” explains Dr Phoon.
Here are some other physical, emotional and behavioural signs to note. When you see these, you know it’s time to get up and get moving!
So what even if I have a sedentary lifestyle?
While we can all argue that this is just a short term issue, the long term effects of a sedentary lifestyle can have significant harmful effects on your health. Moreover, we are sure that #wfh is not going anytime soon, which means we need to be doubly aware of the dangers.
“A sedentary lifestyle is one of the causes of many chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. Not to mention, cancers, including colon and breast cancer,” notes Dr Phoon. She also adds that a lack of physical activity could also increase the risk of bone loss and therefore osteoporosis.
Alarmingly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) identified physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. An estimated 3.2 million lives are lost globally each year to the effects of sedentary lifestyles. And because of this, sedentary behaviour is now recognised as a global public health problem, contributing to premature death.
Re-evaluating the “new norm”
We have compiled a list of lifestyle habits that we have picked up that can potentially increase the risks above. With the help of Dr Phoon, we will also share how you can mitigate these risks.
1. Prolonged sitting and bad posture
What you can do: Actively plan some physical activity in your daily routine. Also, remember to maintain a good sitting posture: avoid slouching forward too much or leaning too far back on the chair.
Dr Phoon also advises everyone to take short breaks in between and do some stretches. For example, for every hour of sitting, take 5 minutes off to move around the house. This can help to facilitate blood circulation. If you have a fitness tracker, try to clock in 5 to 10,000 steps a day.
2. Unhealthy eating habits
What you can do: To resist excessive snacking, limit the snacks you have at home. Avoid filling your kitchen with chocolates and potato chips. Opt for healthier snacks such as fruits and baked versions of fried snacks. More importantly, plan for a balanced diet with more fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins.
“Stay well-hydrated by drinking lots of fluids, but avoid sugary drinks and excess caffeine,” says Dr Phoon.
3. Lack of sun exposure
Staying indoors for the most part of the day means that we are not getting as much sunlight as we used to. “Sunlight triggers the body’s production of vitamin D which plays a role in bone health and boosting immune system” Dr Phoon explains, adding that sunlight also increases the brain’s release of serotonin, a hormone which helps to boost our mood.
What you can do: Take some time to go out to walk everyday. The best time to head out is in the morning. This will give the maximum yield of vitamin D at a minimal health risk.
4. Overworking and emotional stress
As a result of working from home, the boundaries between work and personal hours have been blurred. Many individuals end up overworking themselves and spending even longer hours on their work. For some, there is the added stress of juggling work and supervising children as they do their home-based learning.
What you can do: Practice self-care and self-compassion. This can be done simply by establishing a work-life boundary. Put aside work after a certain time and avoid checking emails after working hours. Take some time out for leisure activities or spend time with family and friends. Find whatever way you need to relieve stress and improve your overall mood.
The key point to remember is to sit less, reduce sedentary time and increase incidental physical activity. Understandably if you have not been active for a while, the inertia to get up for a sweat may be high. But remember! Any improvement would be beneficial, and definitely better than nothing.
Contributed by Dr Phoon Chiu Yong, Family Physician, Healthway Medical (Elias Mall)
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