Being Fit for Your Life

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Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh
Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh

Take a break! ‘Take 5 for your health’
For many years, regular physical activity has been advocated for preventing and treating chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to commit to exercise, or simply find it hard to find the time. Adding exercise to a day that may already be over-filled with work and family responsibilities in addition to financial constraints, transport difficulties, lack of access to training venues or supervised programs, may pose barriers that seem insurmountable.

If this is you, Take a break! may be a more realistic solution. Recent studies suggest that sedentary behaviour – sitting or lying – for long uninterrupted periods of the day is also a risk factor for many chronic diseases. Too much sitting time, particularly if it is largely uninterrupted (without breaks) poses a health threat in itself including insulin resistance and elevated lipid levels and increased body fat. After all, the human body was designed to keep moving, not sit for hours on end! The good news is that breaking up sitting time is free, requires no extra time or expense, can be done anywhere, doesn’t need trainers or equipment or a trip to a gym.

Here’s how easy it is to take a break and take 5:

  • Make a rule not to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time without a break.
  • During each break, stand up for 1 minute.
  • During this 1-minute break, introduce movements that enhance musculoskeletal health or balance. For example: Stand on one leg, stand up and sit down very slowly, jump 5 times as high as you can, march in place lifting knees as close to chest as possible, raise yourself up and down on your toes, etc.
  • Make it easy to remember to do this by making every TV commercial a break from sitting, or setting an alarm on your phone or watch, or posting a sign on your computer or desk, etc. It’s a good idea to keep a record of how many ‘breaks’ you take each day, putting a tick on a chart each time.
  • You may decide to reduce your total sitting time with some extra changes in your routine or environment at work or home such as: replacing your office chair with a Swiss Ball; never sitting with your feet touching the ground; using the arms of your chair to do triceps dips while sitting watching TV or videos; putting a recumbent bike in your office and pedalling while you read; doing knee extensions and heel raises under your desk – with ankle weights if you wish; making all your phone calls standing up or walking; walking to offices on same floor rather than sending emails; conducting ‘walk meetings’ with colleagues rather than sitting around a table; paying your bills or opening your mail while standing.

Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh is a geriatrician, Professor of Medicine and John Sutton Chair of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Sydney. Her research, clinical and teaching career has focused on the integration of medicine, exercise physiology, and nutrition as a means to improving quality of life across the lifespan, with a particular focus on the elderly. She is founder and executive director of the non-profit Fit For Your Life Foundation. Her favourite sport is fencing.