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Sitting all day long but still feeling healthy

Sitting all day long but still feeling healthy Sitting all day long but still feeling healthy

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Photo top: Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Photo bottom: archive Maud Daemen

Catharina Pijls Encouragement Prize 2020

Spending eight hours a day on your desk chair and then flopping onto the sofa in front of the TV in the evenings. It’s not good and we’ve known that for a while. It increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and can cause muscular and articular complaints. It doesn’t do you much good mentally, either. People who sit a lot, often feel drained and have an increased chance of depression. But why do people sit so much? Is there a link between sitting and their other activities? How do they experience their own health? Maud Daemen, a master’s student of Health Education and Promotion, wrote her thesis on that subject. And with this, she won the Catharina Pijls Encouragement Prize 2020.

Maud Daemen first wants to emphasise something: sitting a lot is not the same as not exercising much. “You can cycle every day and go to the gym four times a week and still sit for long periods of time.” An example is sporty people with office jobs. “I noticed during my research that many people don’t make this distinction. When you speak to them about their sitting behaviour, the solution they come up with is often: then I will exercise more. But it is about breaking the cycle of sitting too long. For example by going to get something to drink or standing at your desk when you work. You can’t compensate sitting by exercising more outside those hours. The risks involved in sitting too long will remain.”

Daemen carried out her research on behalf of the Area Health Authority, GGD Zuid-Limburg. The organisation’s Health Monitor provided her with a dataset with more than 27 thousand adults (17-64 years) and 25 thousand elderly people (older than 65). “A great luxury, because you can really draw conclusions from such numbers. In addition, I was given the opportunity to elaborately interview twelve of them about their sitting behaviour.”

Most of the sitting is done at work or while watching TV. Both those with sedentary professions and those in active professions want to spend their free time in an active way, but they have different reasons for doing so. The ‘sitters’ want to compensate for their behaviour at work, whereas those who are active want to continue what they do at work.

Elderly people who sit a lot are often more negative about their health, while those under 65 feel quite positive about their own health the more they sit. That’s remarkable, says Daemen. “You would think that people who sit a lot would feel less fit, despite their age. It appears that when people are asked to assess their health, older people pay more attention to their physical health, whereas the younger group looks more at the bigger picture. If someone has a good income, a lovely family and a social life, they see themselves as ‘successful’ and therefore also as ‘healthy’.”

Daemen also noticed that few people are aware of the risks of sitting. “A lot could be achieved here. There are so many initiatives to get people to adopt healthier eating habits and exercise more, but only a few that address their sitting behaviour. They often don’t realise that they are sitting for long periods – for example because they are engrossed in their work – and underestimate the disadvantages for their health.” A standing desk, a cycling chair or a reminder on the computer to help you remember to stand up could help.

Daemen by now feels very much at home in the world of research. “At the moment, I am working as a research assistant at the Alzheimer Centrum Limburg. The plan is to soon do a PhD there.” She wants to spend the prize money – 2000 euro – on a trip to Norway, where her boyfriend is about to graduate from the University of Oslo. “If the COVID-19 measures allow it, I would like to spend three months at a research department or start my PhD at a distance. I am still at the orientation stage of how I will spend that period.”

Catharina Pijls Encouragement Prize

The Catharina Pijls Encouragement Prize was created by the Catharina Pijls foundation, which wants to draw attention to education and research within health sciences and stimulate its developments. The prize goes to an excellent master’s thesis in the field of health sciences.

Normally, the prize is awarded before the Catharina Pijls lecture. The prize-giving ceremony has been postponed until next year, although the lecture by Andrea Evers, professor of Health Psychology, could be watched online on Thursday 19 November.

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