Are you a sloth? It’s time to get up and move!

I’ve got nothing against sloths. I think they are amazing creatures but let’s face it, sloths are well known for their sedentary ways. They sleep for up to 20 hours a day and even when they are awake they don’t move much.

Interestingly, new research suggests that we are adopting the sedentary ways of our gentle sloth friends.

Thanks to technology and longer working days it’s normal for many of us to stay seated at our desks for hours at a time without much movement.

But here’s the thing – a lack of physical activity is responsible for 20% of all deaths of people aged 35 and over. That’s 1 in 5 of us!

Being inactive leads to an increased risk of dying from cancer, developing diabetes and having a heart attack.

When I first heard this, my immediate reaction was –

“But I go to the gym everyday and exercise for one hour!”

I thought I was in the clear.

I was wrong.

Apparently, running on a treadmill, a gentle stroll or squat thrusts for 1 hour is better than nothing but you’re still at an increased risk of premature death if you’re slumped at your desk for the majority of the day.

Associate Professor David Dunstan from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes institute in Melbourne states –

“When we sit, we have muscle ‘dis-use’ – our muscles are essentially ‘sleeping’. When we’re up and moving, we’re contracting muscles and it appears that these frequent contractions throughout the day are beneficial for helping to regulate the body’s metabolic processes.”

The fact of the matter is we need to be moving all the time. How often?

The Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes institute recommends that at the very least you must get up and move every hour. However a recent study found that engaging in a 2 minute walk at any intensity (light or moderate) every 20 minutes is even better, resulting in reduced blood sugar levels of approximately 30%.

So how can you incorporate more movement into your day?

Here are a few simple suggestions to shift your sloth like ways.

Timer technique

Often when you’re working in front of your computer you can lose track of time and forget to move. Grab a timer, set it for 20 minutes and carry on with whatever you need to do.

Once the timer goes off, that is your cue to get up and move. I often do 10 karate kicks, star jumps or pushups. Other times I’ll go for a walk and complete some errands (e.g. post a letter, withdraw some money from the bank or drop off a book to the library).

Ditch the escalator and take the stairs

I have 3 flights of stairs I have to take to get to my office. I’ll admit that initially I wasn’t thrilled about this. But now I see these stairs as a great opportunity to decrease my risk of disease, burn extra calories and improve my fitness. Chief Scientist for the American council of exercise Dr Cedric Bryant states –

“Stair climbing will give you a little more bang for your buck because of the vertical component”

One study in the European Heart Journal examined a group of 69 hospital employees and banned them from using lifts and escalators for a 12 week period. After the 12 weeks, it was found that the participants had better fitness levels, less body fat, smaller waist sizes and reduced cholesterol and blood pressure.

Add a treadmill to your desk

It is actually possible to walk at a slow pace and do work, hence the brilliant invention of the ‘walk station’. According to the inventor of the walk station, Dr Levine states that using one during the day set at 1.6 km/h can result in a loss of 25 kg.

Commercial walk stations cost $4,000 to buy, but why not save a few dollars and make your own?

A number of people appear to have done this by simply buying a second hand treadmill and desk. In fact, one guy shows you how he made his own treadmill desk for only $39.

Next year when I move house the plan is give my housemate my desk and chair and create my very own walk station. So if you have an old treadmill you want to get rid of, please let me know!

Until then, I’ll have to make do with regular bursts of karate kicks and star jumps throughout the working day.