I was intrigued by a recent headline in the New York Times “Well” section reporting on a study about exercise and blood sugar, Exercise ‘Snacks’ to Control Blood Sugar. It described a study showing that short bits of exercise during the day – a couple of minutes or so, were very effective at controlling blood sugar, more so than one hour or so long session. What kind of exercise? “Any activity that rapidly raises your heart rate and leaves you panting and sweaty for 60 seconds,” apparently. Interesting, but a little impractical, for many of us who get dressed in the morning in office attire and makeup hoping for a day free of panting and sweaty moments.
This study joins many others touting the benefits of being active throughout the day. The research and the message seems clear: being sedentary all day is really bad for your health. Our fabulous human brains have made it possible to do a lot of work using those brains and only those brains, but we neglect and abuse the other parts of our body to our peril.
I’m lucky in this arena, because I work at home. Typically I’ll break up my desk work with short bursts of physical housework, gardening, or a quick walk to the bus stop to meet the kids.
When I made the shift to working at home the thing that was most liberating for me was being able to dress in such a way that I could be comfortably active throughout the day.
If I don’t have meetings, my uniform is yoga pants and sneakers. Yes, guilty as charged, I’m one of those annoying mom types walking around in yoga pants. But here’s the deal: when I’m able to wear this uniform, I’m much, much more likely to fit in small amounts of physical activity into my day. If I’m dressed for a meeting, forget it. I’m going from my desk to my car and back again and that’s it.
When I used to work in an office, I kept a pair of sneakers under my desk and took a walk at lunch when I had the time. But whether I went for that walk or not would definitely also depend on if I was wearing something comfortable enough to walk in that day.
Fashions are always changing, and the long term trend is undeniably towards more casual and more comfortable. But that’s the least true for office workers, those sedentary sitters who need to move the most. Aware of the evidence that healthy employees are more valuable and productive, lots of workplaces are starting to look at helping employees get a little bit active during the work day. Relaxing the dress code whenever possible seems like an obvious place to start.
I recently bought a pair of “Dress Yoga Pants” and they’re pretty cool. With a pair of comfortable shoes , I think they’ll be fine for exercise snacking. They’d be acceptable attire in any of the offices I’ve ever worked in (admittedly more casual ones like public relations and public health).
But here’s where I think our clothing choices could make the biggest difference in physical activity levels: among our kids in school. I began to notice something early on in my daughter’s school career: on non-PE days, she wanted to wear flip-flops, or uncomfortable looking ballet flats or boots to school. Well, guess what all the girls who are wearing that fashion-forward footwear are doing on the playground during recess? You guessed it: not much. If schools mandated sneakers every day, I’m pretty certain that kids would be more active during recess.
So how about it, Michelle Obama? Can we start a public health campaign about wearing sneakers to school? I bet we could get the athletic shoe companies to chip in for that!