The return to the office might be good news when it comes to watercooler gossip and post-work pints, but settling back into your (hot) desk has a few unexpected downsides. While our homes might be full of domestic distractions – dishes that need washing, dogs that need walking – long periods of uninterrupted work aren’t inherently more conducive to getting things done.
Not only is sitting down for hours at a time bad for your body, it’s bad for your mind, too. Scientists have long suspected that sedentary habits negatively impact cognitive function. Now, they know how.
An experiment at the University of Illinois tracked the activity levels of 89 overweight adults over the course of a week. During the study, researchers assessed participants’ ability to multitask when faced with distractions. They found that those who habitually moved less – regularly sitting for 20 minutes or more in unbroken stretches – were less able to maintain focus, with both the speed and accuracy of their work impacted. The results suggest that, in an office setting, keeping yourself chained to the desk will only make it easier for your mind to wander.
If you have lost some of the opportunities for movement that you had while working from home, there’s a risk that your productivity levels will dip unless you unshackle yourself. So, for the sake of your health and your chances of making the 5.48pm train, build periods of physical movement into your day: take the stairs to consult with a colleague instead of emailing, or pop out to eat lunch outdoors. It might feel like a waste of precious minutes, but you’ll make them back by working more efficiently.
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