With Christmas Day fast approaching, the holiday season is well and truly upon us and with the shorter days, wintery weather and TV Christmas specials, we may feel less motivated to be active. Whilst we recognise that sometimes exercising in winter can feel harder than usual, it’s really important to be aware that the evidence for poorer health outcomes as a result of extended periods of sedentary behaviour has strengthened both in children and adults. This was recently highlighted in the updated Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) Physical Activity Guidelines that were published earlier this year.
What is the evidence on sedentary behaviour and health?
Since the previous CMOs guidelines published in 2011, notable developments – particularly in the epidemiological evidence base – have suggested sedentary behaviour is associated with:
- Increased cancer risk
- Poorer blood lipid profiles
- High blood pressure
- Reduced cardiovascular fitness
- Increased risk of all-cause cardiovascular mortality
- Increase in obesity
What is sedentary behaviour?
Sedentary behaviour describes being in a sitting, reclining or lying posture during waking hours and engaging in little movement or activity, using little energy above what is used at rest, for extended periods. Physical activity (movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure) is undoubtedly important, but may only reduce rather than eliminate the increased risks associated with extended sitting time. Although we know that sedentary time is associated with health risks, there is still not enough evidence to provide specific guidance on a minimum time limit for sedentary behaviour or even whether shifting from sitting to standing is protective for health. However, the evidence does support the recommendation that time spent being inactive should be limited, and broken up with at least light physical activity whenever possible.
How can I motivate myself and my friends and family to get active?
I know I definitely find it harder to get off the sofa and be active over the festive period, but then again physical activity doesn’t have to involve going to the gym or doing a 10K run. How about trying some active games this Christmas – charades, twister or ‘Santa says’ anybody?
This year, I’ve committed to ensuring my family and I do some walking (even just short ones), and we are going to attempt the Christmas Day 5k parkrun – don’t forget that you can even combine running with raising money for charity! If running is something you might like to try in 2020, you can start with websites like NHS Couch to 5k which may help! https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/couch-to-5k-week-by-week/
The best physical activity is the one that works for you, your schedule and your priorities – this way you’ll be much more likely to stick at it! Everyone is different – some people enjoy the gym, others enjoy classes like yoga, for some it’s cycling, for others it’s walking, gardening or dancing! Don’t be put off if one type of activity isn’t for you, there’s loads out there to try!
Engaging in physical activity brings a whole host of benefits for children and adults including a healthy weight status, improvements in bone health and cardiovascular fitness, as well as a decreased risk of depression and other mental health issues – increasing overall quality of life.
So let’s make a start this festive season, but remember physical activity is for life and not just for Christmas – so start as you mean to go on!
You can find infographics for all age groups, disabled adults, pregnant women and women after childbirth describing the CMOs physical guidelines here, and we have a more detailed summary on these updated guidelines in our Nutrition Bulletin – don’t forget there is also lots of information about physical activity on our website.
Merry Christmas and a Happy Active New Year!