Pre-COVID-19 data estimates adults spend more than eight hours/day sitting. Some report sedentary behavior has increased upwards of three hours since that time. As individuals are less active, they are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and several cancers. With the recent rise in virtual learning, teleworking and health-mandated quarantines/ isolations, we can be confident that adverse health outcomes will eventually emerge among those who now find themselves classified as physically inactive (PI) or insufficiently active (IA).
Early preliminary research shared on Cambridge Open Engage reported previously active Americans reduced their physical activity (PA) and increased their screen time (ST) by an average of 32% and 38%, respectively. Surprisingly, individuals classified as PI became even more sedentary, increasing their time sitting and ST an average of 16% and 25%, respectively. Since virtual and remote tasks may not disappear any time soon, we must embrace new ways to engage students, employees and colleagues in a manner that contributes to enhanced health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has facilitated an environment that promotes increased physical inactivity and sedentary behavior due to self-isolation and mandatory quarantine requirements. Constant physical inactivity and sedentary behavior are associated with poor physical and mental health. Accumulating any physical activity mediates PI and sedentary behavior, which are separate constructs that together introduce health risks. Thus, safeguarding psycho-physical health during the pandemic is paramount and warrants special attention to promoting health, wellness and physical activity during virtual meetings.
Realizing health gains can begin by implementing small, incremental bouts of physical activity. Reaching recommended daily physical activity targets is not required to see initial benefits. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition recommends PA accumulation can begin with five-minute increments. Health benefits are irrespective of age, gender, race, ethnicity and health status.
Tips for scheduling meetings in the new year.
How can we break up the sedentary time and begin to improve our health? Consider the following for your next virtual meeting:
- Reduce the meeting duration to less than one hour.
- Consider start/end times that allow adequate transition between virtual meeting rooms (e.g., 9:15–9:45 a.m. or 10–10:50 a.m.).
- Implement five-minute standing activity breaks for every 25 minutes of meeting time or work performed.
- Facilitate hip, hamstring and lower-back stretches at the desk or work area.
- Model and promote physical activity during virtual meetings.
Lifestyle modifications begin with small behavior changes. Those small, consistent behavior changes can provide drastic improvements in overall health. Changes in general health can be as simple as what happens during your next virtual meeting. If you need more guidance in selecting activities appropriate for your organization or group, ACSM, Exercise is Medicine and the CDC offer free resources.
Alicia T. Bryan, Ph.D., FACSM, serves as the chair of ACSM’s Strategic Health Initiative: Women, Sport & Physical Activity. She is an associate professor and interim associate provost of Faculty Affairs and Academic Innovation at Columbus State University. She also is an ACE-Certified Medical Exercise Specialist and serves as the CEO of Evolutions, Inc. in Phenix City, Alabama.
Raymond Jones, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the Department of Medicine, Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care and the Center for Exercise Medicine.