Reflecting on my 24 Hour Activity Cycle and Creating Healthier Habits – maeve conneely

Here I am (again), doing (another) postgraduate degree, currently in my 7th year as a UL student! Working in the PESS is undoubtedly an honor; the quantity and quality of research, the level of expertise, the sense of community, the warm, welcoming atmosphere of like-minded individuals all embarking on the journey of trying to make the world a healthier place is surely a winning combination.

This blog post has provided an opportunity to reflect on learnings from my research, how they apply to both my practical work and personal life and how I have created healthier habits throughout my working day.

As we all know, the WHO updated their physical activity guidelines recently (Bull et al. 2020), amongst other changes was the addition of sedentary behaviour recommendations. Adding another layer to this, the 24 hour activity cycle is increasing in popularity, with Canada leading the way with their 24 hour movement guidelines. This is the focus of my current research, which involves analysing activity behaviours of Irish adolescents, and understandably on the forefront of my mind.

Recently, whilst preparing training materials for a corporate health and workplace wellness session, I designed an exercise based around conducting a self-audit of health taking the whole day in to consideration. Of course, this led me to audit of my own 24 hour activity cycle. I am passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle, I lift weights 5 days a week,  generally bring my lovely golden retriever, Teddy, on a 5k walk daily and can more often than not be found going for a swim in the ocean or climbing a mountain on the weekends. Yet, this self-audit encouraged me to consider the other 22 hours of the day, here’s where the irony hits! While both my research and work as a practitioner revolves around educating and encouraging people to become more active and less sedentary, in a cruel twist of fate I realised that I had become less active and more sedentary, with screen time hours that I’m sure all post-graduate students are familiar with!

Broaching the topic of personal sedentary behaviour with some of my PESS colleagues highlighted this to be a common issue, with the current global pandemic also having an impact on routines and organic PA in daily working life. While these screen time hours are necessary, the associated prolonged sitting does not have to be and herein lies an opportunity for healthier habits! When it comes to habit formation theory, the power of consistent action in response to specific cues is promoted (Lally & Gardner, 2013), essentially we want to make these healthy habits automatic therefore repetition is key! Bearing this in mind, here are some things I have implemented in to my daily working life to improve my 24 hour activity cycle.

  1. Self-audit your activity behaviours

The potential of the 24 hour activity cycle to inform research is described by Rosenberger et al. (2020) and can also be used to reflect on your own daily activity by exploring the time we spend sleeping, in sedentary behaviours, in light physical activities and in moderate to vigorous physical activities. If you were waiting for a sign to audit your 24 hour activity behaviours, here it is! Identify where you can make changes that will be beneficial to your health.

  • Move every hour

Set an hourly reminder, pick an exercise, perform exercise, repeat throughout your working day, every day.
Personally, I have an alarm set on my watch to go off hourly (8:50am, 9:50am, 10:50 etc.). When this alarm goes off, I drop and do 10 push ups. Throughout the course of the working day this adds up to at least 80 push ups and throughout the course of the working week, at least 400 push ups. If someone reading this blog post performs more than 400 push ups on a weekly basis, let me know and I will buy you a coffee when we all get back to the PESS! It takes less than 30 seconds, does not require equipment, can be done regardless of your attire and is a great way to break up prolonged sitting and get the body moving.

  • Stand and stretch

We are all familiar with the physical implications of prolonged sitting; the classic weakened glutes/abs/hip flexor trifecta, spinal stress, neck strain all impact our quality of life. Try and incorporate other positions while you work such as standing (bonus neuro-motor points for single leg standing), squatting or even cycling. This does not require a high tech adjustable desk but rather some creativity. Improve and prevent physical adoptions of SB by including stretching and mobility exercises regularly throughout the week. I like to begin and end my working day by doing 15 minutes of mobility work, listen to your body and identify where you are feeling tension, your body will thank you for it.

  • Reinvest Commuting Time

Most of us are working from home for the foreseeable future, this has provided us with an opportunity to save time on commuting. Reinvest this time in to increasing your health, do a yoga class, get a quick walk/run/cycle in etc.

While the contents of this blog post are unlikely new information to this particular physically active and physically educated cohort, I am hoping it may serve as a friendly reminder to practice what we preach.

Bull, F.C., Al-Ansari, S.S., Biddle, S., Borodulin, K., Buman, M.P., Cardon, G., Carty, C., Chaput, J.P., Chastin, S., Chou, R., Dempsey, P.C. (2020) ‘World Health Organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour’, British journal of sports medicine, 54(24), pp.1451-1462.

Lally, P. & Gardner, B., (2013) ‘Promoting habit formation’, Health psychology review, 7(sup1), pp.S137-S158.

Rosenberger, M.E., Fulton, J.E., Buman, M.P., Troiano, R.P., Grandner, M.A., Buchner, D.M., Haskell, W.L. (2019) ‘The 24-hour activity cycle: a new paradigm for physical activity’, Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 51(3), p.454.

Maeve Conneely is a Post-graduate student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences in the University of Limerick. Within the Physical Activity for Health Group, Maeve is a researcher on the Active School Flag project, an initiative by the Department of Education and Skills, which aims to get ‘More Schools, More Active, More Often’.
Contact Maeve at:, Linked-In or Twitter

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