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Wellbeing on the move

Caroline Paradise | 23 Jan 2017 | Comments

I’ve been an advocate for the importance of movement to our wellbeing for a long time now, presenting on the topic at conferences, to clients and colleagues, but I was surprised to read this week that researchers in California have found that women who do less than 40 minutes of exercise a day had cells which were biologically much older, up to eight years in some cases.

The study, published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, is based on a survey of almost 1,500 women aged 64 to 95 and found that those that sit down for most of the day had shorter telomeres, tiny caps which are found on the ends of strands of DNA and protect chromosomes from damage. As telomeres shorten with age, risk of disease increases. 

This is one of an ever growing number of studies to come out demonstrating the importance of movement to our health. The World Health Organisation found that sitting for eight hours a day increases your risk of developing a chronic disease by 90 per cent and puts lack of movement as the forth leading risk factor for death.

But it’s not just our physical health that suffers from remaining sedentary throughout the day. A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity, whereas skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion. Sit-stand desks have also been proven to improve employee productivity by as much as 53 per cent over a period of six months.

These are startling statistics and yet 37 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women still spend less than 30 minutes a day on their feet. That sounds terrible, but perhaps not surprising when data recently collected from over 1,500 respondents using Atkins’ new WellBriefing tool suggests that between 45-50 per cent of people aren’t aware of how much they move throughout the day.

With people spending an average of 90 per cent of their time indoors I think it’s time we took a serious look at how we can both create buildings that incorporate movement needs into their use and look at ways to encourage people to spend more time outdoors.

Lime Tree Primary Academy is a great example of Atkins’ architects bringing this theory to life and working closely with staff and students to design a school that enables over half of the curriculum to be delivered outdoors. With a central, open avenue running through the school, breakout areas outside each classroom and a large outdoor play area, the children incorporate far more movement into their daily lives than a more traditionally designed school building would allow. As well as the physical benefits, teachers have noticed wider improvements to the students’ self-esteem, motivation and enthusiasm to work.

As architects and designers we need to rethink the world around us. If we design to make movement around a building, home or public space enjoyable and part of people’s daily routine then we can make a big difference in helping to change behaviour. Not only can we have a positive impact on individual’s lives and wellbeing, we can improve student performance and help companies achieve significant financial savings, through reduced absence rates, and increases in staff productivity.