In his New York Times best seller, ‘Eat Move Sleep’, Author Tom Rath makes a compelling argument about how to lead a fulfilling life, a state he refers to as ‘fully charged’. To be fully charged Rath believes human beings must have:
- Positive interactions with other people and
- Meaning to their life
Two and three warrant their own posts, but for now I want to draw attention to the first principle: Energy. Why? Because most of us (myself included) spend all day sitting at a desk, endangering our health in the very process. Research suggests that for every two hours sitting, we should expect a 90% drop in our fat burning enzymes, a 20% decline in HDL (good cholesterol) and a cancellation of twenty minutes of exercise. Wait, there’s more…. productivity drops because sitting decreases blood flow to the brain, which indirectly shuts down creativity and focus. That’s some real Debby-Downer stuff right there!
So how did it get this way? One explanation according to obesity expert and inventor of the treadmill desk Dr James Levine, is work space environment. Levine explains that since the 1960s, work spaces have been designed to minimize movement. It’s basically a cultural thing. Secondly, many of today’s jobs require us to be nearly glued to our computer screens, a dismal truth. Look around you next time you’re at work (assuming you work in an office). How many of your co-workers are sending emails or taking calls whilst stood up? And it’s not just office folks, in fact most of us from adulthood could function perfectly well without having to leave our homes (hooray for technology???).
Now that we’ve established prolonged periods sat on our butts makes us fat, causes cholesterol and ruins our productivity. Do we accept that, reach for the Ben & Jerrys and call it a day? Or, do we care enough about our health to do something about it? Since I assume you care (after all you are reading this blog) here’s some combat techniques to fight the war against gravity.
Ergonomics: Don’t go throwing those chairs out just yet! Standing all day is not the solution, it’s clearly extreme and could also lead to it’s own set of problems. Start with assessing your work space environment. If your company has an occupational therapist have them assess your desk set up. Otherwise, here is what optimal desk posture should look like:
If your chair is not supporting your lower spine (Lumbar Region) then it’s worth asking for a new one, especially if you already have pre-existing back issues or can prove the current chair is detrimental to your posture.
Standing desks: Standing desks are great because they allow you to adjust the height so you can alternate between standing and sitting. Aim for half your day standing up, spread out across intervals. The great thing about standing: you burn more calories! Here’s a quick tool that tells you exactly how many: http://www.juststand.org/tabid/637/default.aspx (use a four hour working day, not eight). In my case, I burnt 33% more than if I were sitting ! Not too shabby! Even the king of mobility Kelly Starrett agrees. Through his charity http://standupkids.org/, the mobility guru is on a mission to make every public school adopt standing desks in ten years.
Move: This should come as no surprise, but just how vital is it to walk frequently especially if you work in an office? According to researchers at the University Of Utah School Of Medicine, people who got up and moved around for at least two minutes every hour had a thirty three percent lower risk of dying…… Slashing your odds of a premature death by 33% just by getting up every hour, is the cheapest insurance policy you will ever take.
Lift Weights: I used to have bad posture, but weight training fixed that. I always remember when I came home for christmas in 2013, just two months into my love affair with weights, and my brother complimented my posture as if to say there was a miraculous healing of my spine. No shrines were involved, but banging out sets on the lat pull down machine combined with dumb bell rows and pull ups (assisted back then of course) caused the muscles in my upper back to activate. As we have come to sit, we have come to adopt an internal rotation of the upper back, (see diagram A for my attempt to show what it looks like). In laymen’s terms, we call this a hunch back. To prove my point, I suggest the following simple test: stand up and notice where your thumbs are pointing, if they are facing each other you have internal rotation aka a hunch back. What should happen is for your thumbs to face forward (Diagram B), thereby ensuring your back muscles are activated and holding you up. Get in the gym, work on your upper back and notice the difference!
Diagram A Diagram B
I hope this post has struck a chord with you because the risks of being sedentary are nothing short of catastrophic for your longterm health. Sitting is the new smoking, cliche as it seems. What I have outlined here are simple but effective measures which, if done consistently and repeatedly, will pay dividends in the future. Don’t look back in thirty years from a wheelchair.
As always, Pushing for Health x