Sorry, can’t talk– I’m at my desk and out of breath

Mov­ing while you’re work­ing can help you to avoid obe­sity and heart dis­ease, says Peta Bee. But is a desk tread­mill the an­swer? Two writ­ers put it to the test

Friday - - HEALTH -

I f you are read­ing this in the parked po­si­tion, then you’d be ad­vised to stand up. Fail­ing that you should fid­get. Move some­thing, even if it is just a tap of your feet or a drum­ming of your fin­gers. A re­cent sur­vey by UK slim­ming com­pany Weight­Watch­ers found that most Bri­tons now spend more than 20 hours a day sit­ting or ly­ing down; Swedish sci­en­tists reporting in the Bri­tish

Jour­nal of Sport­sMedicine, mean­while, sug­gested that pro­longed sit­ting should carry a pub­lic health warn­ing. And in the UAE, it’s been re­ported that only 4 per cent of res­i­dents walk on a weekly ba­sis, ac­cord­ing to a study by in­ter­na­tional shoe­maker RYN.

Our lack of move­ment is be­ing blamed for rais­ing the risk of high blood pres­sure, caus­ing a slug­gish me­tab­o­lism and, in­evitably, weight gain. Yet how do we change when our life­styles de­mand we sit for much of the day?

It’s some­thing sci­en­tists have been puz­zling over for the past decade in stud­ies look­ing at how the desk-bound and car-bound can squeeze ac­tiv­ity into their time-crunched lives. What’s cru­cial, they’ve found, is Neat (or, non- ex­er­cise ac­tiv­ity ther­mo­ge­n­e­sis) – the kind of in­ci­den­tal ev­ery­day move­ments such as walk­ing, fid­get­ing and even shiv­er­ing that burn calo­ries and keep fu­els flush­ing through our sys­tem.

At the fore­front of such re­search is Jim Levine, a Bri­tish obe­sity ex­pert who is now pro­fes­sor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in the US. In 2005 he led a ground­break­ing study that showed that lean people burn about 350 ex­tra calo­ries a day – through in­vol­un­tary move­ments such as pac­ing around the of­fice or walk­ing to the pho­to­copier – which could add up to a weight loss of 16kg ev­ery year.

It prompted Levine to de­vise the Walk­sta­tion, a tread­mill desk that en­cour­ages seden­tary of­fice work­ers to in­cor­po­rate move­ment into their day by walk­ing as they work. Even though the ma­chine op­er­ates at a snail’s pace of around 3kph, it is enough, he says, to make a dif­fer­ence. Levine is also be­hind “fid­get pants” – un­der­wear fit­ted with mul­ti­ple sen­sors and ac­celerom­e­ters de­signed to de­tect, and to store on a mi­cro­pro­ces­sor, ev­ery move­ment made by the wearer.

Levine found that obese people tend to be much less fid­gety than lean people and spend at least two hours more each day just sit­ting still. Fid­get more and the daily ex­tra move­ment is roughly equiv­a­lent to a gym class, says Levine.

He adds that the most mun­dane move­ments can make a dif­fer­ence: “Our stud­ies show that the calo­ries that people burn in their ev­ery­day ac­tiv­i­ties – their Neat – are far, far more im­por­tant in obe­sity than we pre­vi­ously imag­ined.”

He and his team have tot­ted up the amount of en­ergy we burn do­ing small tasks. Wash­ing up by hand in­stead of us­ing a dish­washer, for in­stance, burned 26 more calo­ries. In to­tal, the ex­tra en­ergy from small tasks added up to 108 calo­ries a day. It doesn’t sound much, but over a year it equates to 39,420 calo­ries. Since 3,500 calo­ries is equal to around 0.45g (1 pound) of fat, burn­ing 108 calo­ries a day means you off­set al­most 5kg of weight gain a year.

“What all the stud­ies show is that we need to move more,” says Michael Mosley in his book Fast Ex­er­cise. “If you spend most of your work­ing day sit­ting down, just find an ex­cuse to get up and move ev­ery 30 min­utes.” Turn over to find out what two Bri­tish jour­nal­ists thought of the Life­span tread­mill desk.


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