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Mark McCall: Director of Beat The Seat

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Shaping Director Stef Nienaltowski recently met up with Mark McCall, having been introduced towards the end of last year. His new venture is called Beat The Seat and is a very interesting and exciting service that business can use to assist their employees to keep healthy at work.

Beat the Seat is designed to help businesses with the issues caused by being sedentary for long periods at work, and how to counteract them.

Stef Nienaltowski: I'm sat with Mark McCall, the Director of Beat the Seat. Good morning Mark. 

Mark McCall: Morning Stef.

SN: Mark, before we get into your company and its objectives, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you've ended up here?

MM: Okay, I'm going to bore you for the next 20 minutes! I started off as an osteopath about 20 years ago, and I'm now a member of the Sedentary Behaviour Research Network, which is called the SBRN, and the NCOR, which is the National Council for Osteopathic Research as well, and my expertise lies in sedentary behaviour, which is why I'm board members of those two things. The osteopath thing flourished into what we're going to be talking about now.

SN: And here you are! So, Beat The Seat, as mentioned, it's a very easy name to remember. Can you tell us what the main objectives of the company are, and what's the offering, or who is the offering mainly aimed at?

MM: Okay, so, it's a big question, because what we have to do is educate a lot of people about the difference between exercise activity, physical activity. and sedentary activity. So, essentially, what we've got to do is convince people that there is another, if you like, physiology to what their body does. So, their body acts completely different when it's active, as to when it's sedentary. So, one can't offset the other. In other words, being sitting has to be seen in its own right, it can't be offset by exercise. You have to beat sitting, which is why we call it beat the seat. So, we have to change the culture of our relationship with the chair, no get rid of the chair, just change our relationship with it. And that's what we do, it's behaviour changing.

And because it's behaviour change, it takes a little bit longer than, say, buying a new desk or a new chair or whatever, so it takes a bit longer. We're on to sign up with a company for 6-weeks, because it's all about changing the culture for them, bottom-up, top-down. It makes a big difference to us if the company that we're with has a really good ethic anyway, so they want to take care of them. We work a lot with companies that have office-based staff and desk-based staff, so if the management want to take care of their staff, then it makes a huge difference to us, it makes that a lot easier for us to do our job.

SN: And you've said there about office staff, and a thought popped into my head there, is this as relevant for coach, lorry, bus drivers?

MM: Absolutely, anyone who is sitting! The problem isn't sitting, the problem is prolonged sitting, and what I mean by prolonged sitting is anything over half an hour. Research is still pretty...

SN: ... sketchy?

MM: Yeah, it's not really in deep [sic] so the best we've got to go with at the moment is half an hour. After half an hour, your body, your muscle tissue especially, starts to work completely different, which is why I was saying before about the physiologies being different between activity and sedentary as soon as we sit down. I'm now going to bore you with a bit of science. As soon as we, well, I've done half an hour, our bodies, our muscle tissue... there's a lot of controversy about whether muscles are even organs because they produce so many hormones. So, one thing that happens is after half an hour, they stop producing hormones, and one of the protective hormones they produce is called lipoprotein lipase which goes around your body and sucks up all the bad fats.

Your muscle tissue also isn't working, so it doesn't need blood glucose, however your glucose stays in your blood, so there's a peak in blood glucose, there's a peak in blood fats, no lipoprotein lipase, all those kind of things, and in little to no time at all, we're talking about completely different body makeup, different chemicals going around your body. And that can't be undone by exercise. It can only be undone by changing. As soon as you stand up, it's like a light switch going off. Your muscles start to work again, everything rebalances, it's really quick. But that's the key, that's the thing we've got to convince people of. You can't sit for 9 hours a day, and then go to the gym for an hour, it won't work.

It will work as far as getting your... if you want to lose a bit of weight, if you want to delay the onset of certain other things, but large horrible diseases like diabetes and even cancers, cardiovascular disease, even strokes, all kind of things. You are putting yourself in severe danger of developing those if you sit for long periods of time and then go to the gym. You cannot offset one with the other, they both have to be seen as two different health hazards in their own right.

SN: I am fascinated by that, having spent most of my life in big corporate jobs...

MM: I'm not meaning to scare you on this...

SN: I know! That is a misconception I had that if I walked to work, then sat down, walked home, but no they are two completely different things?

MM: Two completely different physiologies, you cannot offset the one with the other, you have to address them separately, otherwise it doesn't work.

SN: Fascinating

MM: And it's really fascinating, but it's really simple. The big thing that we've got to overcome, is the normalisation of sitting behaviour. Everywhere there's chairs, everywhere there's seats, everywhere. One thing to do if you go on the tube or the train or whatever, and everyone rushes to get a seat, don't get a seat, because you're prolonging your life. Just stand up more, it's really easy.

SN: Amazing. You're going to talk in a minute about what you're going to do for businesses and how they can get in touch with you, but right now from your research which you've just leaned on there, is there any country, city, in the world that is getting this right at the moment?

MM: Yeah, no-one's getting it right, but the pioneers really are Australia. They've got a Stand Up Victoria campaign, Victoria obviously being one of the States in Australia, and, it's all about, it's being run by the IDI which is basically an anti-diabetes, it's a government funded diabetes charity. And they have done huge amounts of work about how to change people's behaviour. Again, not about the change, not about the chair sorry, it's about our relationship to the chair. So, incentivising people by using reward systems, getting vacation, lots of different things. And their research has based a lot of what the rest of the world is doing. So, America are big on it, Canada are big on it, but no-one is producing as much good quality research as Australia. Especially one of the guys, called Professor David Dunstan who's the head of the IDI if you like.

SN: So, Victoria Australia getting it right...

MM: Kind of getting there, the thing is, you look at, this will sound really counter-intuitive, but you look at the populous of Australia, and you think there's going to be lots of healthy people. I think they are the third most obese country, it's just bonkers! You get really high, 1- or 2% elite athletes, and you get a lot of people who just don't do anything. It's too hot, they just stay in, and just don't do anything.

SN: Hence obesity.

MM: Hence the reason why Australia is so big on it, because diabetes is a big thing for them, because of the amount of obesity they've got.

SN: And, again, I love the name Beat the Seat, I just love that name, and as I was finishing my working career a few years ago, working from home was very prevalent, and is becoming more so, so your offerings must relate to these home workers as well?

MM: Absolutely, what I want to do, because no-one including Stand Up Victoria is doing this, is create a pilot if you like, of really simple things that can be followed no matter where you are; at home, at work, whatever, it doesn't cost much, you just have to change things a little bit. And, to do that, that's the people who like the comfort zone, and we've got to inconvenience them a little bit and try to tell them the Why, which is why the education is so important. You can't stand telling people what to do, they just will do it for a week and then not do it anymore.

SN: So, people listening to this, want to get in touch with Mark McCall at Beat the Seat, how do they?

MM: They do it by phone on 01243 767339. Internet This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and we've got a YouTube channel as well.

SN: Fantastic, so Mark, I know we're going to look to run a pilot in Portsmouth, whether we call that Stand Up Portsmouth or not I don't know...

MM: Oh, we're gonna call it Shaping Portsmouth, how can we not!

SN: How can we not! But if I spin the dice forward a year, where do you hope to be with your company in a years' time?

MM: I hope to be on Wogan.

SN: [laughs]

MM: Telling everybody about the date. No, to be honest, I want to be a long, I know it sounds cheesy, but I want to make Portsmouth a really healthy City, and it's really easy to make it a healthy City. It doesn't cost a lot of money. Portsmouth hasn't got a lot of money, but what it does have is good people, so make it if you like, make it a beacon of health. And that's where I'd like to be in a years' time.

SN: Well, as you know, ditto that as well, so I look forward to working with you on it, so Mark, thank you.

MM: Thank you Stef.

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