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Escape your chair

13 Nov 2020 / Wellbeing Print

Heavy heart

Move more and sit less with these top tips for those working from home.

More than half of those working from home as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions estimate that they are sitting down for an average of two hours and 40 minutes longer per day, a new survey has found, with one in four remaining seated for at least three hours more than previously.

The survey was commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation and conducted by Ipsos MRBI in August. For a number of years, the Irish Heart Foundation has been warning of the dangers of sitting down for long periods.

Sitting for prolonged periods of time can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, increase blood pressure, lower good cholesterol, and can also contribute to excess weight and obesity.

New working-from-home routines mean that a large section of the population is missing out on regular daily physical activity. They are no longer walking or cycling to work, not moving about the office attending meetings, nor popping out for a coffee with a colleague.

Instead, working from home sees many of us simply walking to the kitchen or home office, opening the laptop, and sitting for hours on back-to-back video calls.

Move on

Last September, the Irish Heart Foundation launched its ‘Escape Your Chair’ campaign and is encouraging people to sign up to the Escape Your Chair Challenge to move for one minute every hour of the working day, with suggested daily movements.

Participants will receive regular updates throughout the month, with weekly movement plans, videos, and tips to help them escape their chairs.

In weekly videos, campaign ambassador, fitness expert, broadcaster and author Karl Henry demonstrates some of the movements, including cardio, muscle strengthening, mobility, and balance exercises, which will help keep everyone motivated throughout the month.

It is recommended that all adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity, five days a week. However, new research is showing that those who are sedentary may need to spend even more time exercising to offset the risks associated with sitting down for too long.

Stairway to heaven

The World Health Organisation is currently working on new physical activity guidelines, which, for the first time, will recognise the risks associated with sitting for prolonged periods.

Being active at moderate intensity means that the body has to work slightly harder than is comfortable.

While doing physical activity at moderate intensity, a person will begin to feel a bit warmer, will become more aware of their heart beating, and it will become slightly more difficult to talk.

A brisk walk, jog, swim or cycle all count as moderate intensity movement, if you push yourself slightly out of your comfort zone. It is also recommended that adults should do muscle strengthening activities two or three days a week.

Bodyweight exercises include squats and lunges, and lifting weights or everyday tasks like carrying the shopping or digging in the garden all count as muscle-strengthening activities.

Even it up

It is also recommended that adults over the age of 65 include balance activities two to three days a week. These include things like yoga or simply standing on one leg or walking on an imaginary tightrope. As we age, our balance deteriorates, so while balance exercises are recommended for the over 65s, you are never too young to challenge your balance.

Coupled with the many benefits to physical health, regular physical activity is also hugely beneficial for mental health. Regular movement helps reduce stress and boosts mood and self-esteem.

Sometimes, work-associated stresses can get on top on of us, so something as simple as taking a break from the desk and stepping outside for a short walk can help clear your head and leave you feeling refreshed.

Call of the wild

Autumn is a great time for setting new goals, as the kids go back to school and everyone settles into new routines. As the evenings get darker and the weather gets colder, it can be hard to get motivated to head out for a walk in the evenings. Therefore, breaking the day up with regular physical activity – no matter how small – can be an easier way to get active.

Some simple tips to build more movement into your day include:

  • Take on the Escape Your Chair Challenge and move for one minute every hour of the working day,
  • Start and end your working day with a ten or 15-minute walk,
  • Get out at lunchtime for a walk or run, or do an online exercise class,
  • Reduce your video calls from one hour to 50 minutes and take movement breaks between calls,
  • Elevate your laptop and do your video calls standing up,
  • Set a reminder in your calendar to stand up and move.

The Irish Heart Foundation is encouraging everyone to visit www.escapeyourchair.ie. Here, you can access a sitting-time calculator to assess how long you spend sitting down throughout the day, sign up to the challenge, and download our new leaflet, ‘Well@Home: a simple guide to creating a healthier working-from-home environment’. The leaflet includes tips on keeping active, eating healthily, and minding our mental health.

Lighter touch

A healthy balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall health, as it can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugars, and ultimately keep your heart healthy.

Working from home, the usual habits around what and when people eat have changed – whether it is because there is constant access to the fridge, or the stresses of trying to balance childminding with work. The challenges of working from home can often make you feel less in control of your diet and eating habits.

‘Mindful eating’ is being conscious of what you are eating and why. It is about getting back in touch with the experience of eating and enjoying food. The goal is to base meals and food choices on physical cues like hunger, rather than emotional ones like stress or unhappiness.

So many of us are out of touch with our feelings of hunger and fullness. We often eat not because we are hungry, but because food is there.

Some simple healthy-eating habits while working from home include:

  • Plan your meals, do a food shop, and stick to your plan,
  • If possible, try not to work in the kitchen,
  • If you are working in the kitchen, keep snacks in the cupboards, not in view,
  • Take a break for lunch and eat away from your workstation,
  • Avoid grazing at your desk,
  • Drink plenty of water – sometimes we confuse thirst for hunger,
  • Avoid excess alcohol in the evenings, as it can create cravings the next day.

Alone

For many, working from home requires adapting to a new way of life. Research has shown that many people have reported feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety. It is completely normal to feel worried and stressed. However, it is vitally important to mind your mental health.

If you are struggling, it is important that you seek help by contacting your GP. A campaign (developed by the Depart-ment of Health and the HSE in collaboration with a range of cross-Government partners) offers support and resources to help deal with the stress, anxiety and isolation currently experienced by many in Ireland. For more information and support, please see gov.ie/together and yourmentalhealth.ie.

Some tips for minding our mental health while we work from home:

  • Exercise regularly and choose activities you enjoy,
  • Get out in the daylight and fresh air – there are extra mental-health benefits to exercising outdoors,
  • Keep regular sleep routines,
  • Maintain a balanced diet,
  • Stay connected to friends, family, and colleagues,
  • Find ways to relax, such as reading a book, getting creative, or meditating,
  • Limit the time you spend scrolling on social media.

You can see from these tips that physical and mental health are very closely linked: healthy habits you adopt in one area of your life will have a knock-on effect in all areas of your health. Likewise, breaking an unhealthy habit will have a positive effect on both your physical and mental health.

Together now

The Irish Heart Foundation is calling on employers to support their staff to adopt healthy working-from-home routines. Promoting shorter video calls, allowing movement breaks during longer meetings, and respecting regular working hours will all help to support staff to mind both their physical and mental health.

We also have an online training course available to employers called ‘Create a Physically Active Workforce’, which will guide them on how to create their own workplace physical activity plan that supports those working from home, as well as office-based staff.

All resources are available to download on escapeyourchair.ie, so sign up and get moving.

Tara Curran
Tara Curran is physical activity coordinator at the Irish Heart Foundation