The Science of Healthier Working (by Caroline Williams)

The Science of Healthier Working (by Caroline Williams)
Ryan Mulcahy
Ryan Mulcahy

The average adult spends 70% of their day sitting or lying completely still. We all know that this is bad for our physical health, but did you know that it is also bad for our brains? Recent research has linked sedentary lifestyles to everything from lower IQs to mental health issues and an increased risk of dementia.

On the other hand, many of us do desk-based work, which lends itself to a lot of sitting around. So, what can we do? A brief look at the scientific research provides some ideas.

Active sitting

A recent study into the lifestyles of the Hadza[1] – a group of modern hunter-gatherers who live in Tanzania has shown that they, like us, spend 9 hours a day physically resting. But the way they rest is a lot healthier. Instead of flopping into a chair, the Hadza squat, kneel, sit low to the ground, or (most commonly), sit on the floor. The researchers say that the low-level muscle contraction needed to hold their bodies in these kinds of positions (and to get up again) seems to be enough to counteract the negative health effects of inactivity.

Mix it up

They also fidget. The same study showed that, when sitting, the Hadza changed position roughly every 15-20 minutes – perhaps to relieve tension in the active muscles. If active resting like the Hadza isn’t possible, moving to a different part of the office or your home regularly could be another way to inject more movement into the day. Also standing for some of your meetings or calls is an easy way to mix things up.

Move Little and Often

Research also suggests that taking regular movement breaks is a good idea, even if you don't do vigorous exercise at some point during the day. A 2018 study[2] showed that brain regions involved in memory were thinner in more sedentary people, regardless of whether they also exercise. A loss of grey matter in these regions is linked to a age-related memory loss. This suggests that, rather than trying to squeeze in more workouts into our already busy schedules, we should focus on moving little and often, to break up long periods of sitting and protect our brains.

Thank You to our guest writer Caroline Williams! Be sure to check out Caroline's acclaimed book Move: how the new science of body movement can set your mind free.

[1]Sitting, squatting, and the evolutionary biology of human inactivity. David A. Raichlen, Herman Pontzer, Theodore W. Zderic, Jacob A. Harris, Audax Z. P. Mabulla, Marc T. Hamilton, and Brian M. Wood. (2020)  PNAS, Vol. 117 | No. 13

[2]Siddarth P, Burggren AC, Eyre HA, Small GW, Merrill DA (2018) Sedentary behavior associated with reduced medial temporal lobe thickness in middle-aged and older adults. PLoS ONE 13(4): e0195549

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