From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

When was the last time you tilled a field or washed your clothes by hand? It's true: Canadians don't do much physical labour anymore. We now have machines doing most of the hard labour. In fact, many occupations involve standing at retail desks or working at computers where e-mail and other communication make it virtually unnecessary to do any moving. "Before machines did most of our physical labour, we were getting activity throughout our whole workday," says Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson and workplace activity expert Nancy Dubois. "Now, we have engineered physical activity out of our lives."

The 2006 Canadian report on Physical Activity Among Canadians Workers showed that 85% strongly agree that physical activity helps people do their work more effectively. Yet, many of us still don't make the time.

In 2001, a panel of U.S. researchers conducted three telephone surveys, which revealed that an average of 82% of people said their job involved mostly sitting and standing. Another 13% reported their jobs involved mostly walking and just 4.8% said their job involved mostly heavy lifting or physically demanding work.

Dr. Mark Tremblay, an expert in healthy active living for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, authored a study that showed that what you do on the job influences how active you are overall. He found that fewer Canadians who had active jobs requiring light or heavy lifting were considered sedentary compared to Canadians who had jobs that mostly involved sitting or standing. As well, the people with higher occupational activity also reported more physical activity in their leisure time. "This research shows that your job can play a big role in your overall activity level," Dr. Tremblay says, adding, "So for almost anyone, injecting additional activity into your workday can only help."

How active are you?
If you're not sure if you're moving around enough during the day, Dr. Tremblay says there are some telltale signs you can be watching for. "If you get a 'numb bum' from sitting, if your work shoes show no sign of wear after a year, if your energy boost only comes from your coffee mug, and if your clothes that fit last year are getting tighter, you are probably not getting enough activity," he says.

Tremblay suggests that you try to figure out how much you walk around during the day. Do you get up to get water frequently? Do you take the stairs? Dr. Tremblay asks. "Keep a log for two days to see just how many minutes you spend in motion during the day, and then challenge yourself to increase that by 10% each month for the next five months."

5 easy ways to get moving

  1. Wear a pedometer. "The public health target is 10,000 steps per day. If you are far from this target, try to ensure you gain steps at work by frequent movements around the office," Tremblay says. "Go to the furthest washroom, take the long way to meetings, and walk around the corner to talk to your colleague instead of emailing."
  2. Get up at least once an hour. "Reducing chair time is an effective way to introduce movement into your workday," Dr. Tremblay says. Try to train yourself to move, even if it is just to get a drink of water, look out the window or stretch your legs.  
  3. Schedule it in. Do you get so absorbed in your work that you sit for hours on end? Set a reminder on your cell phone or computer to jog your memory - and your body, Dubois recommends.
  4. Walk - up flights of stairs or around the block with your colleague to discuss work. These are easy ways to get some activity into your day. Start a stair climbing program by registering for the Stairway to Health at the Public Health Agency of Canada.
  5. Flex at your desk. Roll your shoulders, lift your arms over your head - these and other stretches can help concentration. (See more stretching exercises at the Alberta Centre for Active Living.) Dubois also suggests keeping two soup cans at your workstation and doing some bicep curls and other weight lifting routines to give your muscles a workout.

Keep it up
It may take some commitment to maintain a regular routine, but, Dr. Tremblay says, it's in your best interest to stop being a desk potato. He adds: "Increasing physical activity at work can make your day more enjoyable and your heart happy."

Read more about the physical activity needs of adults.

Posted October 2008.

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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