Is sitting the new smoking?

It’s a question that’s been increasingly asked with the HSE amongst others launching a public health campaign on the topic and it is one that has potentially significant consequences for organisations. Shane O’Mara, Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College Dublin and author of ‘A brain for business – a brain for life’ (Palgrave Macmillan) has explored this topic amongst a wide range of others in this new volume which provides links between human behaviour and business performance.

It is well-known that aerobic exercise is good for the brain and for heart health. Less widely appreciated, O’Mara notes, is the fact the heart is connected to the brain and the quality of blood flow through the brain has a dramatic effect on brain function.

Humans are not designed to spend long hours sitting around. Our metabolic rates rise substantially when we make a simple transition from sitting to standing and our blood pressure rates also change.

Walking, especially in nature, is a remarkably good relaxant, a very good anti-stress treatment and one of the very best treatments for local back pain, which may arise from excessive sitting.

Meetings conducted while walking or standing tend to be over quicker and be more to the point than they are in the traditional seated format. Many meetings are held around a table where participants can focus on the eye position and eye gaze of others. Humans have an elaborate eye positioning system which is coupled with another system designed to judge the movement of others, including eye movement. Humans engage in displays of aggression by way of an unwavering gaze.

A walking meeting, O’Mara notes, offers an opportunity to change the script. When walking, eye movements are directed frontally, and in a common direction and lateral movements are much less frequent and are signalled usually by a head movement. A walking meeting therefore offers an important opportunity to conduct a short, focussed discussion around what might be a contentious or difficult issue with the latent cues that exacerbate hostility and anger removed.

Furthermore, because walking is conducted outdoors, typically the temptation to violate social norms through shouting is reduced.

Professor Shane O’Mara is one of a number of speakers at a Brain for Business Workshop on 8 September at The Merrion Hotel, Dublin. The workshop will look at how the brain works, how to change behaviour, leadership skills and optimising performance and resilience.

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Frank Dillon

Posted by Frank Dillon

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