In an effort to spend less time sitting in a chair, I have been experimenting with standing, sitting on the floor, and lying down while I work, read, or watch TV and as I was going through all of those different positions while writing the other day, I reminded myself of this improv game:
I think I was less awkward than that but I can never be sure. 😉
Once upon a time, I had a standing desk. This was before my ADHD was diagnosed and I did find it quite useful because I could fidget a fair bit while doing my work. However, once I really dug into what I was working on, I would end up standing in the same position for long periods of time and my body was not a fan of that.
In fact, I would actually end up with most of my weight on my right leg, my right hip jutted out a bit, with my left foot only lightly touching the floor to give me balance. I’m pretty damn sure that standing habit contributed to my overall challenges with my right hip.
I kept a standing desk for years but at some point, I realized that having to stand up to work had become one more obstacle between me and my tasks. It was mostly subconscious. It wasn’t like I was thinking ‘UGH! I have to stand up? Blech.’ But, over time, it was becoming harder to get started and once I dug into that feeling a bit I realized that standing up was part of the problem.
So, I went back to a sitting desk but whenever I thought of it I would stand up to do voice dictation or I would prop my keyboard on something so I could type while standing. This, combined with a timer app that helps me focus for short periods and then take a break to move around a little, has helped me get important things done without sitting still for too long.
And I often bring my yoga mat down to the living room when my husband and I are watching a show so I can do stretches or just sit on the floor while we watch.
In January, once they went on sale, I bought a reading mat and bolster cushion so I could be even more comfortable lying or sitting on our laminate floor while I read, watch TV, chat with my family or even attend webinars where I don’t have to be on camera.
So, I was already open to the idea of spending more time at floor level when I came across a video (below) a few weeks back from someone who always works from the floor. I have occasionally done some journaling or drawing while sitting on my mat but I hadn’t tried doing any extended work from the floor. If it did cross my mind, I probably dismissed it because I didn’t want to spend any extra time hunched over during the day.
Before you watch this, I want to be clear that I am not necessarily endorsing the claims they make about the benefits of floor sitting and that I really wish they had said ‘dawn of humanity’ instead of ‘dawn of man.’
Once I saw the video though, I clued into the fact that I had more options besides hunching over or lying on my stomach to write in my notebook like a movie teenager – I could raise my work surface to create a more comfortable working position.*
So, now I have a whole variety of ways to get comfortable while I work or relax and I feel better for it. Switching positions during the day gets me moving but even when I am staying still I don’t end up holding the same posture for an extended period of time.
My body likes that and so does my brain.
Do you alternate positions during your work or relaxation time? Which ones work best for you?
Since all of our bodies work differently, I know that my options may not work for you but I would be interested to know what does.
Do you schedule a time to shift? Do you choose positions based on task? Or do you just move when you get uncomfortable?
I can’t rely on noticing that I am uncomfortable, sometimes ADHD hyperfocus gets the best of me, so I make a plan for what tasks I am going to do where, and I use a timer.
*Meanwhile, if I had consciously decided to work on the floor, I would have had a full brainstorm of ideas about how to make it more comfortable. I hadn’t chosen to focus on it so my brain had just dismissed it without further consideration. Brains are such pests sometimes!
I’ve got a thing for some of the women whose music was the soundtrack of my youth. I love Stevie Nicks (saw her in concert with my son last year and a few years ago in Canberra, Australia), Madonna, kd lang, Ferron, and Chrissie Hynde. Lots of others to love too (Kate Bush, Joan Armatrading, the Parachute Club, and more) but these are all women I’ve seen in concert.
So I couldn’t resist a chance to see Carol Pope when she played in Toronto recently. I was shocked to realize she’s now 70. She makes 70 look pretty good. Pope is still tearing up the stage. She was part of a concert she’d organized called “Music for Lesbians.” I rounded up some friends (all bloggers here, Hi Sarah, Hi Susan, Hi Cate!) and though none of us are lesbians (bisexuals all) we had a great time.
Love that Carol Pope shared the stage with Rae Spoon too. Here they are on stage together.
Okay, you’re thinking, what’s any of this got to do with fitness?
As you know I’ve been sick recently. As of the date of the concert I was still tired by the evening and coughing up a storm at night. I debated not going but it was a date with friends and I’d hate missing out. I was certain I wasn’t contagious. I was just suffering from a cough that hangs around after.
Anyway, I looked at the tickets and was thrilled to discover that I’d paid extra for us four to have seats in the balcony. There’d be no need to stand around. Yay!
But other friends were in the regular section and I felt guilty. I couldn’t hang with them and I couldn’t dance. I had to sit. Jokingly friends referred to where we were as the luxury section for old ladies. (Yes, the tickets cost more.)
This feeling of being aware of my needs being different than the needs of others was new to me. It made me realize how privileged I am that this is usually not true for me.
“The next time anyone gives me drama about sitting down or bowing out of a standing room-only event, I’m just going to remember Dolly. What would Dolly do? She’d probably smile graciously, keep singing her heart out in all her rhinestoned finery and completely ignore those criticisms. You do what you need to do to look after yourself. That’s something I constantly tell myself, and Dolly helped remind me of it.”
I know I’m frequently the person on the blog who advocates standing over sitting, and moving over keeping still, but yes, sit if you need to. I did. And Dolly does too. No guilt. No shame.
I’ve been thinking lots about furniture since I moved to a standing desk. I’m interested in how furniture shapes and contains the way we live our lives. It’s the sort of thing that seems neutral but isn’t. Assumptions about the ideal body, about ability, and about relationships shape our furniture choices. But I confess it’s not just the standing desk that got me thinking in this direction.
When these stone pillows came through my newsfeed from the aptly named page “this is why I’m broke,” I confess to making that “squee” noise. Want!
I’m attracted to multi-purpose rooms, buying less stuff that’s inevitably landfill bound, flexible housing arrangements, active sitting, and seeing how families around the world live and what their dwellings look like.
Our furniture is so specialized. There are desks for working, kitchen tables for casual meals, dining room tables (that get their own rarely used room) for formal meals, and large beds that say “this is the room in which you sleep” in a way that a rollable mat or futon does not). We’re not very flexible about it all. Heaven forbid you try to work at the dining room table or sit with your laptop in bed. Each activity has its own place, its own thing, and so we buy more stuff and cram it into ever larger homes.
If we’re friends on Facebook you know I have a bit of a soft spot for tiny houses. Mostly that’s because I live in a crowded, messy house full of teenagers and their stuff. Minimalism is a bit of fantasy. I also have a love of co-housing, intentional communities, shared cars, a communal library and living room, shared sporting stuff, and a roster for cooking meals.
It’s clear that most people don’t see things my way. Single family homes are just getting bigger and bigger and they’re filled with more and more individually owned, non-shared stuff.
In the United States, there are 300,000 items in the average American home (LA Times), the average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years (NPR) and still, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. (New York Times Magazine). For more on this theme, see here.
What’s with all this stuff? I confess that when I first saw special pillows for different sex positions I thought “wow, that’s cool” but even sex positive me is still frugal me and I thought couldn’t you just scrunch up a regular pillow? Again does each activity have to have its own thing? (Okay, the sex pillows are cool. But still. Landfill? Pass them on to the grandchildren?)
But I’m way off track now. Back to chairs. Or at least back to furniture. Returning to the fitness angle.
I started thinking about furniture first when we were a young family, with small kids. And we were being marketed cribs, and toddler beds, and child size beds (all for people who we knew would be 6 ft or more in 16 years). I confess that as a parent of young children I had tastes and parenting preferences that ran against the grain. We didn’t buy swings, high chairs, and cribs. I had visions of them all ending in landfill and mostly our children were happiest co-sitting, co-sleeping etc with us. We had slings rather than automatic swings and our active squirmy children wouldn’t stay in high chairs or cribs anyway. They usually, when young, slept with us. When slightly older, slept on futons or mattresses on our floor, graduating to their own rooms at a slightly more advanced age than the typical North American child.
I might have been a bit preachy about it all and for that, I’m sorry. There are lots of different ways to be a good parent. Breast feeding and co-sleeping suited us. Luckily I didn’t blog then so there’s no self-righteous me coming back to haunt this blog. Phew.
And while we were definitely minimalist when it came to kid furniture, we still bought bookshelves, tables, sofas and chairs. We never took the big step of going furniture free. It never even occurred to me back then in the days before electronic book and music storage. It was the era of giant, wide TV screens that definitely required furniture.
As a biomechanist, I understand the relationship between musculoskeletal function and the immune system, bone robusticity (density and shape), and functions like digestion and breathing. Having furniture isn’t an option for us, in the same way a cupboard full of junk food isn’t an option for many others. Furniture creates a development-crippling environment in that the stuff literally shapes our body, both in the now and in the future. – See more at: http://slowmama.com/parenting-children/parenting-against-the-grain-going-furniture-free/#sthash.HYxNuezQ.dpuf
Here’s one room in their house:
My point is that I’ve thinking about the politics of the family (see written work on this here) and about furniture for awhile. Lately it’s been my sore back that’s got me thinking about furniture design. And that’s been nudged along by all the health worries about sitting.
Yes, well, easier said than done. Even for me whose back hurts if I sit for very long at all.
We sit at desks all day, drive home in cars, and then sit at the dinner table and then sit on sofas at night. Hard not to sit though I’ve been bucking the trend and eating standing up if it’s just me alone. See It’s okay to eat while standing.
But that’s not comfy for Netflix watching. Or reading.
And surely all chairs aren’t evil. They’ve been around for awhile right? People all over the world use them don’t they?
(Turns out the answers to these questions are “no” and no.”)
According to Colin McSwiggen, recent studies and reporting about sitting describe the problem in ways that mislead. He writes, “They make it look like the problem is just that we sit too much. The real problem is that sitting, in our society, usually means putting your body in a raised seat with back support — a chair. Sitting wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t sit on things that are bad for us.”
But you might wonder, what’s new about this? Weren’t there always chairs? How are we just learning now that they’re bad?
First, chairs aren’t universal. In lots of places people engage in what erognomics types call “active sitting.” Squatting, sitting cross legged, leaning….all of these postures are a bit like sitting but they aren’t bad for you the way chair sitting is. Indeed, if McSwiggen is right we should swap slogans. It’s not sitting that’s the new smoking. Rather, it’s chairs that are the new evil. New? Yes.
Second, according to McSwiggen’s fascinating history of the chair,Against Chairs, they’re also a relatively new thing. he dates the mass adoption of chairs to the Industrial Revolution.
“Suddenly chairs were being made cheaply in factories and more people could afford to sit like the rich. At the same time, labor was being sedentarized: as workers moved en masse from agriculture to factories and offices, laborers spent more and more time sitting in those newly mass-producible chairs. As usual, class aspirations determined what people bought: body-conscious innovations like patent chairs, which were adjustable, and rocking chairs, which encouraged movement, sadly received only marginal acceptance from the wealthy and saw limited use.
And so it was that from the turn of the twentieth century on, chairs had society in their clutches.”
Third, you might be tempted to think the answer lies in a better chair. But it’s not clear what a good chair would even be. You’ve all seen the many variations: the kneeling chair, the stability ball as chair, the wobbly stool as chair..to list just some examples.
Here’s McSwiggen again on the range of chairs out there:
“No one even knows what a “good” chair would have to do, hypothetically, let alone how to make one. Some ergonomists have argued that the spine should be allowed to round forward and down in a C-shaped position to prevent muscular strain, but this pressurizes the internal organs and can cause spinal discs to rupture over time. Others advocate for lumbar support, but the forced convexity that this creates is not much better in the short run and can be worse in the long: it weakens the musculature of the lumbar region, increasing the likelihood of the very injuries it’s meant to prevent. There are similar debates over seat height, angle and depth; head, foot and arm support; and padding.
Galen Cranz, a sociologist of architecture and perhaps the world’s preeminent chair scholar, has called ergonomics “confused and even silly.” For designers without a scientific background, it’s a clusterfuck.”
Children know how to sit comfortably without chairs. They squat and do it very well.
In traditional societies, without so many chairs, adults can do this too. (And don’t get me started on toilets. Right Shannon?)
Or you sit cross legged or kneel.
My point is that we have choices. It’s not just sitting too much. It’s how we sit. Active sitting, with lots of movement, is better for us. I’m not quite buying the whole “chair conspiracy” but I do think, for a whole host of reasons, we’d be better off with less furniture.
Could you sleep in a bed like this?
Would you like modular floor pillows as a sofa?
How about having dinner like this?
How about you? Could you live without furniture? Give up all the chairs and sofas?
If you’re like me you’re probably ready to scream if you see another “sitting is bad for you” article.
I think that even though I know my frustration doesn’t make the news any less true. I think that even though I’m currently drafting a chapter of our book on everyday exercise which talks a lot about the dangers of sedentary living. Study after study after study shows that sitting is bad for most people no matter how much we exercise. See Sit yourself down? : The latest news about sitting. My most recent post on this theme The Chair Conspiracy talks about the possibility of active sitting–like cross legged sitting or squatting–and shifts the focus from sitting to the ways in which we sit.
Along with the usual suspects of weight gain and back pain, the animation explains how, as soon as you sit down, the enzymes that break down fat drop by 90 percent, and your insulin effectiveness and good cholesterol levels drops. Sitting also makes blood clots more likely to form in your brain, and people with desk jobs are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease than those with active jobs.
We could go on, but the take-home message here is pretty simple – maybe it’s time to stand up, watch the video and then get outside and go for a walk. Seriously.
What’s the difference? Why is the TED talk better? It explains how most human bodies function best with almost constant movement. Although there’s range of what bodies can and can’t do, the typical human body is not built to keep still.
The amount of time a person sits during the day is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death, regardless of regular exercise, according to a review study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“More than one half of an average person’s day is spent being sedentary — sitting, watching television, or working at a computer,” said Dr. David Alter, Senior Scientist, Toronto Rehab, University Health Network (UHN), and Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. “Our study finds that despite the health-enhancing benefits of physical activity, this alone may not be enough to reduce the risk for disease.”
The meta-analysis study reviewed studies focused on sedentary behaviour. The lead author is Avi Biswas, PhD candidate, Toronto Rehab, UHN and the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, and the senior author is Dr. Alter, who is also Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto.
Set a timer: Tracy and I both write using the Pomodoro technique, short focused bursts with breaks. We use timers and that makes taking a break from sitting easy.
In the evening?: I’m good during the day–I work at a standing desk for at least half the time–but nights can be a challenge when I’m not out doing Aikido or riding my bike. Sometimes at night I just want to watch Netflix or sit in a comfy chair with a book. I foam roll in the evening, and there’s lots of household chores to keep me hopping. Weekends, I worry about movies. It doesn’t sound like much but 2 hours or more sitting really isn’t my thing. See Life as a shark!
Readers of the blog have heard lots about my standing desk. I’m in love! See Celebrating my standing desks. Like Emma and her treadmill desk, I was an instant convert. Now not everyone is convinced. See here. YMMV, as they say. But the standing desk works well for me. I’m a fidgeter by nature. I like pacing.
In the past my favorite working state has always been physically exhausted and mentally alert. I used to ride my bike and then rest, writing at my desk. But back pain and lousy sitting posture got me to investigate standing desks.
“The list of ills associated with hours of uninterrupted sitting includes elevated risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other conditions, which occur as your muscles switch into a “dormant” mode that compromises their ability to break down fats and sugars. Crucially, exercising before or after work isn’t enough to counteract these effects – sitting all day is harmful no matter how fit and active you are. “
Tracy has wondered about ableism of all this “sitting kills” talk. Not everyone can stand or get up and walk around. “Just Stand” as a slogan seems to assume that standing is an option. And not all bodies can stand.
I’ve had two thoughts about this. First, I’ve thought we need to consider of the health risks of extended sitting for wheelchair users in our discussions of the health risks of sitting. There are discussions of active sitting and about standing wheelchairs. Second, we can’t assume that standing is an option for everyone. It’s not. My back problems mean I can’t sit all day. Other people have bodies that can’t stand. Human bodies and abilities vary.
A search for disability and sitting also turn up the concern that the two are causally linked. The obvious connection is the one I’ve mentioned, that wheelchair users sit more than non wheelchair users. A less obvious connection is that those who sit a lot are at greater risk for needing a wheelchair.
“Here’s another reason desk jockeys need to get up and move. Researchers are finding that sedentary behaviors like sitting even just an hour extra per day can up your risk for disabilities in later life — even if you are a moderately active gym rat.
The study published Wednesday in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health is the first to show that sedentary behavior alone may be an independent risk factor for disability, separate from lack of moderate physical activity, its authors say.”
For me the benefits of standing aren’t just physical. I’ve found it changes my writing. I’m more engaged, on task, alert. Less day dreaming and random web browsing. Now I tend to save that for when I flop on the sofa with my smart phone. As I posted to Facebook one day, if sitting is the new smoking, is flopping your bed with your smart phone the new heroin?
The world seems to be changing fast on this front. I know lots of people with standing desks. My partner’s workplace has standing meetings. They’re livelier, more engaged, and shorter he reports. I’ve gone for walks with my PhD students talk about thesis chapters. They humour me. I’m the supervisor, after all.
But some work related challenges remain.
First, there’s air travel. Just flew to California twice this post month. Five hours sitting. On the way home my anti sitting instincts were confirmed by my seat mate, a cancer researcher, also at a conference. He says he’s read the research and is convinced. He sets an alarm and gets up every 20 minutes. With the permission of the flight attendants he stands at the back of the plane. But we can’t all do that. Should we organize turns?
Second, when you get there there’s the conference itself. If my regular working day is a 5 or 10 km run, conferences are sitting marathons. Papers started at 9 am and sessions ended at 9 pm with very few breaks. Most sessions came in three hour chunks sometimes without breaks. Now that I’m not used to sitting, it’s worse. I fidget, practise martial arts wrist locks, and then finally stand at the back. That’s okay but since everyone else is sitting even the speaker, it feels odd.
That’s a long day of sitting. Four days in a row.
Looking around at this conference I started to wonder about how we might change things. Airports now, in recognition that people will be sitting for a long time on their flights, have gotten better with stand up options. The London airport, in my home town has two long standing counters with electrical outlets close to the departure gates.
I thought that some of those counters at the back of conference rooms would work well.
Speakers, for sure, ought to stand. From my days in radio I know they’d sound better, more alive.
But the audience too might be more awake and engaged.
Third, there’s teaching. Not me, I stand and walk but I do worry about my students. I do try to get people up at least once in a one hour lecture.
This post isn’t addressed to the already-fit. It’s a message of hope for total couch potatoes who have perhaps despaired of ever talking themselves into an exercise routine.
Towards the end of 2012, when I turned 43, I read a couple of articles about the dangers of sitting for long periods of the day, especially for women. Totting up how many hours a day I’ve been sitting, ever since… well, all my life, really, as schoolgirl, student, and writer… I came up with the horrifying figure of fifteen hours sitting, eight hours lying down, at best an hour on my feet (if you include cooking). I realized that despite being seven years younger than my partner, I might well die first. I always tell my kids that I’ll do my best to live to be a hundred, but that was a big lie: I wasn’t doing anything of the sort.
Around the same time, a writer friend mentioned other writers she knew who had taken to walking on a treadmill while writing. I hooted with laughter.
Then a couple of weeks later, I purchased a Lifespan DT7 treadmill desk, sight unseen. I could have tried it out in a local showroom but decided not to, in case I wouldn’t like it at first; I was hoping the enormous price would compel me to commit myself to treadmilling.
Two days of slight dizziness; a week or two of aching thighs. One friend predicted that I would fall off, because I’m famously clumsy, but it hasn’t happened yet. I could tell from the start that this was going to work for me as nothing else has, because – engrossed in writing – I just don’t notice the hours going by. At long last, I’ve managed to trick myself into movement.
I started at two miles per hour (American machine, so imperial units) and now I’m up to 2.7. I don’t have a rule for how many hours a day I stay on, but I’d say it’s rarely below two, often about four, and one glorious day hit six. It really helps that I attach my laptop to a big monitor, so I’m typing at hip level but reading at face level.
The one mistake I made was not to realize that I would need to stretch sometimes. I thought of walking as such a basic human activity that it couldn’t hurt me… and then strained my back, four months in, after an afternoon of collating a manuscript. (The physio said it was a classic injury of someone who takes up exercise for the first time.) But once I was healed I got back on the treadmill and now, a year in, I can’t imagine working without it. Tiny static shocks when I touch my laptop are all I can complain of.
I’ve read that treadmilling diminishes concentration slightly, and I’d agree; sometimes if I’m about to draft a brand-new scene, I decide to save it for when I’m sitting down with my coffee. But on the other hand, the walking wards off afternoon sleepiness. I can write, do online research and email, talk on the phone if it’s with someone who doesn’t mind my sounding slightly breathless… When I’m doing something hands-free like watching video, I lift some light weights while walking. Handwriting or video editing would be difficult, but luckily I rarely need to do either. Reading books (rather than onscreen) I save for sitting-down time.
I weigh the same as a year ago (perhaps because all that exercise makes me want lunch at eleven), but I feel much livelier. I don’t think my writing’s got better but it’s no worse either. Basically, it’s a miracle.
Emma Donoghue is a writer of drama, literary history and fiction (Slammerkin, The Sealed Letter, the international bestseller Room and – coming in April – Frog Music) who lives in London Ontario.
I love it (okay, not really, need sarcasm font) when people suggest to me that to lose weight, I should get a bit of exercise, you know, walk more, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. When I tried Weight Watchers for the very last time they gave handy hints like getting off the bus one stop early and walking to your destination. (Um, I ride my bike to work most days. I ride hundreds of kilometers a week, in addition, for fun when the weather is good. How does that fit in?)
Of course, this advice is always from well-meaning people who don’t know me. Those who know me, know that I work out at a variety of sports and physical activities most days of the week, often twice a day. I run, ride my bike, play soccer, lift weights, practice Aikido, and most recently have taken up Crossfit. And yet, I’m very overweight. Fat, big, call it what you will.
How on earth can this be? Newcomers to cycling sometimes say “Oh keep riding the bike and you’ll lose weight,” thinking I’m new too. (I like passing those people, zoom!) Sometimes I’m aware I actually put other fat women off exercise because they are starting to exercise in order to lose weight and then they see me, and think it’s all pointless. But I don’t exercise to lose weight. My experience tells me that, on its own, it doesn’t do very much.
So why doesn’t exercise help with weight loss? (Or to put the question precisely, why doesn’t it help as much as it seems it ought to, when you consider the calories burned in our efforts at fitness?) Given my interests and personality type–geek, academic, fitness buff–I’ve read rather a lot about this question.
There are a number of different answers.
The first answer is simple and it’s probably that first thing that came to your mind: when we exercise, we eat more. Indeed, if you care about performance and recovery, you need and ought to eat more. I was once told by a cycling coach that it’s foolish to try to lose weight during the racing season. Not eating enough–which is what you need to do to lose weight–cuts your speed and your recovery. Diet in the off season when you’re just riding for fun, he said. Don’t hurt your performance by dieting.
But there’s another answer that I find intriguing. Our bodies’ efforts at maintaining weight are ingenious. It turns out that when we exercise more, we also move less the rest of the day. This isn’t intentional. It isn’t anything we decide to do. The idea is that our bodies decide for us.
I’m interested, and fascinated by, the way our bodies undercut our best efforts. Heavy exercisers, it turns out, often move less the rest of the day and so burn not that many more calories than if they hadn’t exercised at all. When not exercising, they’re chronic sitters!
The study which sets out to prove this is cited in the Gretchen Reynolds’ book The First 20 Minutes and she writes about it in her New York Times Phys Ed blog too. “Following a group of young men assigned to a heavy exercise program, researchers were surprised at how little weight they lost. Yes, they ate more but more surprisingly, “They also were resolutely inactive in the hours outside of exercise, the motion sensors show. When they weren’t working out, they were, for the most part, sitting. “I think they were fatigued,” Mr. Rosenkilde says.”
Some people say we ought to “listen to our bodies.” But in my experience our bodies are sneaky experts at staying the same size. They need to be ready for feasts and famines and those women with extra body fat are more reproductively successful.
It’s another argument in favour of short, sharp, intense Crossfit style workouts since they don’t seem to have this effect. Once again, it’s High Intensity Interval Training (HIT) for the win. Thirty minutes, says Reynolds, is the sweet spot for exercise.
This puts me in a mind of a discussion members of my bike club used to have about our long Saturday morning rides. Some of us thought we ought to have shorter routes, say 100 km rather than 150 km, not because we couldn’t ride 150 km but rather because we wanted to do things with our families afterwards. The extra kilometers tipped us past the point where much was possible after other than a nap, a bath, and lounging about the house. It seemed all wrong to come home and then tell the kids that I couldn’t go to the park, go for a bike ride (yikes!), or walk the dog because I was too tired from all the bike riding!
While exercising itself doesn’t make much difference, changing your body composition does. A body with more muscle burns more calories throughout the day and so there’s good reasons to lift heavy weights. I know lots of women do long, slow cardio to lose weight (you know, the “fat loss” button on the exercise machine at the gym) but science says they ought to be lifting weights instead to get lean.
In terms of appetite, I think HIT is right on. Long, slow runs and bike rides make me famished. I can control what I eat after but it takes tremendous effort. Endurance exercise makes me hungry, whereas intense efforts have just the opposite effect.
Of course, why listen to a big person talk about exercise and weight loss? The truth is I’m terrific at weight loss. I’ve lost 50-70 lbs quite a few times. I’m a failure at maintaining the new lower weight, but that’s a puzzle for another time.
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.