Small changes all add up

Studies have shown how just a small amount of persistent activity can improve health rather dramatically.

Small changes all add up

There have been a number of studies in the past few years showing the detrimental health effects of too much sitting.

But there have also been some studies showing how just a small amount of persistent activity can improve health rather dramatically, as well.

The nature of the present technologically oriented work environment is probably not going to change much in the near future. Many of us are going to remain at a computer terminal or doing other stationary, sedentary tasks at work.

Others who are on their feet most of the work day don’t face this problem, but the trend over the past 50 years has been toward sedentary occupations.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society concluded a 15-year study in 2006 that showed men who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate about 20 per cent higher than those who sat for less than three hours.

The risk of death for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 per cent higher.

People who sit for these extended periods could shave a few years off of their lives.

However, a recent motion-tracking study at the Mayo Clinic has suggested that getting up and walking around the office for two minutes, three times an hour could be as beneficial in reversing the devastating health effects of sitting as spending an hour at the gym after work.

In the study, obese subjects in an office setting averaged only 1,500 daily movements and almost 600 minutes sitting.

This compares with farm workers who average 5,000 daily movements and only 300 minutes sitting.

In the study, those who moved less gained more weight.

Persistent, numerous movements performed throughout the day is healthier than being consistently stationary.

We’ve known for years that one great way to help patients with low back injuries to ease their pain in sedentary work environments is to get them to take a timer to work and set it to ring every 20 minutes. This signals the need to stand and walk for a minute or two – even to go get a drink of water. This eases the pain in the back and helps to off-set the detrimental effects that sitting has on the spine and core muscles.

The same strategy could be used to get people moving frequently throughout the work day or even at home. Even better would be to make your computer station adaptable for alternating between sitting and standing positions. There are relatively inexpensive adaptors you can, but for a few hundred dollars that will raise your keyboard, mouse and monitor to a standing position.

Standing work-stations will get you to change your body position and help to combat the ill-effects of sitting by adding to the number of movements throughout the day.

The recent research on high intensity training also shows that the benefits from exercising intensely for short periods each day (as little as five minutes a day) are significant, reducing the risk of dying prematurely from any cause by 30 per cent and from cardiovascular causes by 45 per cent.

These are minimal changes that can be made – doing more activity is better for the vast majority of us.

The same can be said about eating habits. Small additions in calorie count or quality of food can add up over time. If you are in calorie balance (not gaining or losing weight), then you add just a small treat or drink each day, the small amount of calories will add up to significant weight gain over the years.

For example, an extra fruit juice each day, which can have 100-150 calories in 300 ml of liquid, translates to one pound a month gain and 10-15 pounds gained over one year.

And if you consider that one extra-large fancy coffee can have up to 800 calories, which for many people is one third of your daily calories all in one beverage, that could increase that yearly gain even more.

The reverse applies to losing weight – by cutting out a few non-essential food items consistently can add up to significant weight change.

Pay attention to the small details as they will add up over time.


Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology.