How small changes can result in significant benefits to health and well being


University staff have taken part in a workshop to highlight small changes to daily habits that can result in significant benefits to their health and wellbeing.

The staff development workshop at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David's Carmarthen and Swansea campuses, was organised by Geraint Forster, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science.

"We are often being told that ‘Sitting is the new smoking’, and that studies have found that the amount of time we spend sitting during a day can be linked to our likelihood of developing serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and various types of Cancer, but this is a little too simplistic” explains Geraint.

“As with many things in life, anything in excess can be harmful for us. It is clear that sitting for long periods without moving is not how we have evolved to function. Equally, standing for long periods can also have serious health implications. So it is not sitting, that is harmful, but long periods of inactivity. The body needs to move on a regular basis in order to function properly. Even those who are active and fulfil the minimum daily recommendations of physical activity can still suffer the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Some studies have suggested that those who sit for 7 hours a day need to do an hour of moderate physical activity each day, just to counteract the harm done by the sitting!”

Geraint ran a workshop during the University’s staff development week to suggest some simple modifications staff can make to their day to day working lives to try to reduce the negative effects of inactivity. “Many of our jobs these days require us to work at a computer for most of the day, so we are not getting the regular movement involved in more physically demanding jobs, however there are things we can do to try to limit these long periods of inactivity. Although technological improvements over the last Century are the main cause of this reduction in physical activity, technology can also help.

"There are so many monitoring devices now that can record daily physical activity such as step count – these can either be wrist-based or on mobile phones. We know from Exercise Psychology research that merely the act of consciously monitoring something can result in a change in behaviour – once you become aware of how much activity you do, you begin to do more! These devices can also have ‘inactivity alerts’ that vibrate if you have not moved for a set period of time – these can be useful reminders”.

"However the most simple, and cheapest options to increase activity levels are just making some simple changes to your daily habits: making a cup of tea or filling up your water glass on the next floor up rather than the one you are on; picking up printing from a printer in a different block to the one you work in; parking at the far end of the car park; getting off the bus one stop early; going to visit someone in their office rather than emailing; getting into a habit of always standing up when on the phone; hold ‘walking meetings’ – discuss something with a colleague whilst walking around the campus, rather than sitting at a desk. There are numerous opportunities to move more during the day – we just need to be aware of them, and take the opportunities when they arise."

On a recent training course Geraint ran, he instigated a 20, 8 and 2 rule – that during every half-hour, each person should aim to sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8, and move for 2. “We just assume that if we are in a meeting, we must all be sat around a table – this doesn’t always need to be the case. If the person leading a meeting or course sets out the precedent to make it acceptable for people to move around, lean against a wall, stretch their legs every now and then, then they soon get used to it, and research suggests meetings are much more productive,” he said.

Adjustable height desks are also a recent solution to combat time spend sitting. These allow the user to sit or stand at their workstation, thus changing position regularly. “The standing desk is a great idea in the long-term, but clearly it is unrealistic to expect a workplace to replace every desk as this would just not be cost-effective, however again there are cheaper solutions. In my office I have a 3-drawer filing cabinet that is at just the right height to work at whilst standing. If I am doing some work on a laptop or iPad, or just need to write things out by hand, I can do this whilst standing up, thus giving me a break from sitting.”

The take-home message is that little changes can add up to a big difference over time. “What we need to be mindful of is that making some small day-to-day changes may seem a little pointless in isolation, but when multiplied by the number of hours, days, weeks and years that we work, they can really have a significant effect. On the BSc Sport and Exercise Science degree, students study all aspects of physical activity, and discover how these small changes can add up over time. For example, using the printer/toilet/staff room on a different floor, and hence climbing a flight of stairs, results in burning an extra 5 or 6 calories. This may not seem like much, but when you multiply that by 5 or 6 times per day, 5 days per week, for a working year, that adds up to over 7,000 Calories, or equivalent to about 2 lbs of body fat – not to mention the physical and mental health benefits that come from just getting the blood pumping and the muscles working numerous times each day."


Further Information

Rebecca Davies

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