Six ways to keep moving while you watch TV
It was around the fourth episode of Outlander one wet weekend that I understood the true glueing-your-bum-to-the-seat effect of TV on demand and streaming services like Netflix.
As one gripping episode of drama rolls seamlessly into the next there’s not even an ad break to nudge you off the couch. Before you know it you’ve watched three hours of TV and barely moved a muscle.
Just when you thought we couldn’t get more sedentary than we already are, along comes a glut of good TV drama delivered in formats capable of turning even natural born fidgets like myself into sofa- bound sloths. Watching multi-episode blocks of Game of Thrones or The Night Manager might be fabulous entertainment — but with a pile of studies linking prolonged sitting to chronic disease and death, it’s no way to end a day already rich with long bouts of sitting in a car or behind the desk.
My Outlander binge made me think that maybe we need a view-and-move habit. In other words find easy ways to mix viewing with simple movements. Doing stretches is one but Alex Lawrence, Industry Development Officer from Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) has a few others.
“I wouldn’t recommend watching back to back episodes for long periods but if you do there are ways to break up the inactivity and get some benefits for your body as well,” he says. “As well as jumping on a treadmill or an exercise bike in front of TV, there are simple exercises that build strength and balance by using your own bodyweight.”
- Bodyweight squat. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and hands stretched out in front for extra balance. Lower yourself by bending your knees until they’re almost at a right angle with your thighs parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight; don’t let your knees extend over your toes. Try 8-15 squats and aim for two or three sets.
- Wall sit. Stand with your back against a wall and feet in front of you. Bend your knees and slide your back down the walls until you’re in a squat position. Feet should be hip distance apart, thighs parallel to the ground and knees should be over your ankles. Hold for 45 seconds. Holding a heavy object at the same time makes it harder.
- Calf raises. Stand up straight and slowly move up onto your toes, lifting your heels off the ground. Slowly lower your heels. Aim for three sets of 10-20 repetitions.
- Side plank. Helps strengthen core muscles. Lie on your side propped on one elbow. Your shoulder should be directly above your elbow. Raise your hips so that your body is in a straight line. Aim for 45 seconds each side.
- Standing on one leg. Helps maintain balance — worth doing because balance diminishes without our realising it, says Alex Cross. Stand on one leg for as long as possible — and swap legs. For an extra challenge, pass a tennis ball from one hand to the other at the same time.
- Invest in a therapy band. These stretchy bands (AKA resistance or exercise bands) are great for building strength with simple exercises. The UK’s National Health Service website has an easy at-home workout which includes exercises using resistance bands.
“Breaking up long periods of sitting for any reason is good advice — and it’s best to involve movement not just standing up,” says Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis of the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.
There’s very little evidence that standing is enough to make muscles contract — and it’s the muscle contraction that comes with movement that helps keep levels of blood glucose healthy and reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, he explains.
As for counteracting a long day’s sitting, new research published in The Lancet in July found that 60 to 75 minutes daily of moderate intensity exercise (like brisk walking) seemed to eliminate the risk of both premature death from any cause and the risk of death from cardiovascular disease linked to long hours of sitting. But as Stamatakis points out, not many of us manage to fit that in.
“The reality is that sitting now plays a big part in our lives so it’s important to highlight the importance of reducing sitting time or breaking it up regularly and frequently with movement – but ideally this should be in addition to regular moderate to vigorous physical activity,” he says.
But The Lancet study also found that an hour or so’s exercise didn’t seem to cancel out the risk of death when the sitting involved long hours in front of TV.
The reason why may be complex – there are question marks over whether the health risk linked to heavy TV viewing is due to sitting, adds Stamatakis.
“There are other factors linked to watching a lot of TV that are associated with poor health including unemployment – and TV time may also be linked to increased snacking ,” he says.
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