Over the past couple of years, our lives have been impacted by social distancing and lockdowns, 5km restrictions, and an explosion in working from home and hybrid work models.

According to the labour market think-tank Eurofound, Ireland had one of the highest rates of employees working from home during the COVID-19 crisis. This new work landscape presents many benefits to employees and offers a better work-life balance for many, but keeping to a routine is vital if you’re to reap the rewards.

Farming can be a very active job, particularly full-time farm work. However, while driving machinery expends slightly more energy compared to sitting or desk work, it is substantially less than active tasks like yard work, shovelling or brisk walking. Therefore it is important to monitor your activity levels and examine how much of your farm work day you are truly active.

It is also important to maintain a consistent level of activity across all seasons, from quiet periods to busy times of the year on the farm. It is also worth noting that a move towards more advanced technology and machinery in farming may make your farm more efficient, but it may subsequently result in decreased activity.

Sedentary lifestyle

Daily physical activity is a vital part of staying fit and healthy in both mind and body. Sitting and rest are important features of our day. However, it is the amount of sitting and subsequent increase in inactivity that is a problem.

The Healthy Ireland report in 2019 found that only 46% of adults were achieving the minimum amount of recommended physical activity of at least 150 minutes per week. People reported time restrictions as a key barrier to increasing their physical activity. The average reported week day sitting time was 5.1 hours. Even back in 2019, researchers felt that this figure was an underestimation, and with the pandemic and resulting subsequent inactivity for some groups of people, it is now likely to be higher.

Pandemic health impact

In 2021, the Healthy Ireland report found that 51% of people noted they were either drinking more, struggling with their weight, smoking more or reported a decline in their mental health due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Sitting for longer

A recent Irish Heart Foundation survey revealed that more than 50% of people working from home in Ireland were sitting for an average of two hours and 40 minutes more per day due to the pandemic. It is sometimes hard for us to recognise how much of our day we are truly sedentary, between sleep, rest and sitting.

Despite the pre-pandemic work commute, coffee runs, office chats, meetings and social events meant we took part in a lot more informal activity whereby we increased our step counts unconsciously. This is harder to achieve at home and so we must make a conscious effort to move and exercise more.

Most smart phones or watches have fitness trackers or step counters, which are an easy way to track your daily movement and set goals.

Sitting disease

Sitting disease is a term coined by the medical community to describe the ill-effects of inactivity and sedentary behaviour. Sedentary behaviour is described in two ways; postures of rest-like sitting, lying and reclining and those activities that require low-energy expenditure. We expend more energy when we stand and move, helping to keep our bodies’ systems active and healthy.

Sitting disease is also sometimes referred to as “metabolic syndrome”. This is a condition that includes a cluster of risk factors like high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and high blood sugar levels and abdominal fat (waist circumference). These greatly increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Sitting for long periods of time and being inactive has been linked to metabolic syndrome and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer and developing diabetes.

What can we do?

Research studies have found that people who sit for more than eight hours a day in conjunction with limited physical activity have a risk of dying similar to that posed by smoking. Sedentary behaviour is dramatically outcompeting physical activity even in our free time. However, the good news is that an hour to 75 minutes of moderate intensity exercise appears to counter the effects of too much sitting. Any form of physical activity is beneficial.

So, if you are working from home or want to become more active in your workplace, stand up and walk while chatting on the phone, get a standing desk or rearrange your office so that you need to get up more to complete tasks. Consider exchanging conference room meetings to walking workshops, lunch time lulls to active breaks. The bottom line is to optimise your health, sit less and move more.

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