Working up a sweat
With the London Marathon bouncing into view this Sunday, and a colleague extolling the virtues of his recently adopted, arduous training programme, I’ve been ruefully aware of how little exercise I’ve been getting lately.
I think the low point was when I pulled a muscle in my leg while reaching down from my chair to pull open an office drawer. That was on Tuesday and it’s still giving me twinges…
Modern “knowledge work” – while safe and comfortable – is just not natural. We didn’t evolve as mouse-clicking, square-eyed, chair dwelling, battery hens. Yet this kind of sedentary existence is now the norm for the vast majority of us.
The evidence seems pretty clear in terms of the health effects of so much sitting and gawping. These include lower back, flexibility and postural problems, RSI, eye-strain, psychological stress and even increased risk of morbidity from heart disease and circulatory problems.
But I also wonder what we’re missing in terms of our performance and productivity. A Work Foundation report from a couple of years ago cites a number of potential performance benefits for healthier employees, including improved resilience, concentration, reliability, energy and decision-making.
However it also says that despite the various big claims that have been made linking employee health and productivity, they mostly rely on anecdotal and/or self-reported measures. There has apparently been surprisingly little robust empirical research to test these claims.
Well anecdotally I certainly find my best ideas happen not at my desk, but on or after a run, on a bike, or walking in the fresh air.
Thankfully it’s not perceived to be such a weird thing to go running or walking during a work day, as it perhaps was a few years ago. And the RSA has recently tried running weekly Pilates classes for employees and it’s given those of us who’ve tried it a real mid-day boost.
Without getting too wacky about it, there must be some innovative ways to build the exercise we evolved for into the work we do. Can firms like Nike or Adidas help us tackle this one?
I’m about to run home to try to shake off my shocking office injury. I shall be trying to channel the spirit of the rather impressive Taramahumara Indians I was reading about the other day, who eschew modern transport and think nothing of regularly running hundreds of miles barefoot through desert canyons to visit their neighbours. My equivalent may be running down Tottenham Court road in trainers (via the off licence) but it’s a start.