Time to Get on Your Bike

Monday, April 1, 2013 - 11:18

In an increasingly computer-dominated world, it is important we don't forget what every person needs – exercise. Hannah Flannery reports

The human body is designed to move. We are designed for survival, hunting, gathering, farming food, collecting crops and materials and building shelters.

Our approach to development has led to a situation where for most working Australians, a typical day involves sitting in front of a computer for up to 10 hours and if we need to go to the post office less than a kilometre away, we consider driving.

While this scenario does not apply to everyone, it does for many. And many of those people don't see it as a problem.

How have we allowed that to become "normal"?

A 2012 study of the Australian public service found a linear relationship between time spent in front of the computer and the risk of developing obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The study also clearly demonstrated an increase in time spent in front of a computer aligns with increased musculoskeletal symptoms.

"Nine hours in front of a computer for many Australians is very normal," says Dr Kate Pumpa, an exercise physiologist and sports dietitian at the University of Canberra. "For some, this would even be a short day."

The increase in the amount of time we spend being sedentary continues in the workplace because of technological advances.

"Now we can just teleconference or Skype without even leaving the desk."

How important is it to exercise daily and what are the benefits of regular exercise?

The new national physical activity guidelines for adults recommend 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily to prevent weight gain in those people who have been overweight or obese.

Increases in daily activity can come from small changes made throughout your day and, according to Pumpa, they all add up.

"Exercise not only assists in maintaining a healthy weight, but can also assist with cognitive function (through enhanced blood flow to the brain when we are exercising), reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases," she says.

It is important to remember some activity is better than none, and more is better than a little.

Pumpa says accumulated short bouts of moderate intensity activity are just as effective as continuous activity at improving indicators of health such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

The key to making a habit of regular physical activity in the working day is commitment.

Pumpa suggests building exercise into your daily routine by booking it in as a meeting in your outlook calendar.

"Developing a new habit is hard and perseverance is essential. If you've been sedentary for a long period of time, exercise is initially quite hard, but it does get easier," she says.