Sitting is the new smoking. I’m sure by now you’ve heard that. And as someone who reads and writes professionally, activities traditionally done while seated, this has me worried. One theme in two of the books about fitness I’ve read recently, Gretchen Reynolds’ The First Twenty Minutes and A.J. Jacob’s Drop Dead Healthy–is that sitting is killing us.
And even getting physical activity each day, it turns out, isn’t enough to offset the risk of sitting. I’ve read these studies about the dangers of inactivity before and thought I didn’t have to worry. After all, I’m one of the most active people I know. I bike to work, I play soccer, I do Aikido, etc etc. But no. It turns out that regular exercise can’t offset the metabolic death that kicks in from sitting, even just after 20 minutes of sitting. Reynolds now gets up from her desk every twenty minutes and runs around. Jacobs was so convinced of the evidence against sitting that he now writes at a treadmill desk–that’s how he wrote the fitness book–and he literally ‘runs’ his errands.
My preferred mode of being–in the past–was to physically exhaust myself through exercise and then with the body calm and the mind wide awake turn to my academic work. I felt good about the hours at the desk because it was usually preceded by one to two hours of intense exercise–hill repeats, intervals on the track, etc. I do my best writing that way: physically exhausted, mentally charged up and alert. I liked it because it allowed me to sit still. Otherwise, I fidget and get up and wander around. It turns out that all that fidgeting is a a good thing, fitness wise.
So what to do? Well, at home I’m experimenting with a standing desk. See photo below. It’s still very much a work in progress but I like it a lot. I waste less time at the computer. When I’m there, I work. I stand on a pad (like people who work at cash registers) and I have a yoga block to shift my posture around occasionally. My back also feels a lot better. I’ve had physio and posture analysis done after back pain and it turns out that for a professional sitter, my sitting sucks. The good news is that I have excellent standing, walking, running, biking posture. I think maybe I was meant to be something other than a professor of philosophy. The only challenge with my standing desk is after runs and bike rides when I find myself wanting to sit but then I take my lap top to the sofa for awhile and that works too. I’m not sure what to do at the university as I like to sit when I chat with students. I’m still trying to decide about that. In an ideal world I’d have an adjustable height desk but I suspect they are out of the university’s budget. I’ll report back.
Read more here:
A.J. Jacobs, Sitting is Terrible for Your Health
Gretchen Reynolds: Get Up. Get Out. Don’t Sit.
Andre Picard: Why the sedentary life is killing us