Is Sitting the New Smoking? | Getting Fit While You Sit
Written by: Eileen Lonergan
Back in the 90′s I was at a dinner party in Hong Kong having a lovely chat with the man to my right when he asked me what I planned to do with myself once my babies were no longer babies. At that point I had two babies under 18 months old. We had moved our little family of three + a black lab from Singapore to Hong Kong when I was five months pregnant with baby #2 and the instant his question hit my brain my eyes filled up with tears and all I could come out with was, “I think I would like to sit down for a few minutes”. Fast forward 15 years, and as every Irish mammy worth her salt will tell you, “careful what you wish for”, because now I sit endlessly: at my desk, in my car, watching the children during sporting events, same position different venue.
Recently I have been seeing articles talking about the epidemic of sitting. Nilofer Mercant devoted her TED2013 talk to the topic and Fast Company wrote an article In Silicon Valley, Sitting Is the New Smoking. Nilofer shares that people spend 9.3 hours per day sitting, eclipsing even the 7.7 hours they spend sleeping. This sitting around contributes to:
- 10 percent of the risk of breast and colon cancer
- 6 percent of the risk of heart disease
- 7 percent of the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Thanks to my mother I was recently treated to a massage by a wonderful woman (Melinda) who has a PhD in Massage Physical Therapy. So while she is super great at rebooting your muscles into proper working order (ie getting the kinks out), she is world class at explaining the anatomy of your body, and what makes for good sitting strategies. We were discussing sitting during my session and she offered to come by my house and evaluate my office set up. I want to share with you her tips and then other pieces I have found on getting motion incorporated into your daily routine of sitting.
Here are some tips on the correct way to sit at your desk while working:
- Legs: thighs parallel to the floor, bend at 90 degrees, feet flat (we hunted around and found a little stool for my dangley midget legs)
- Seat height: if you aren’t a midget like me, your seat high should be such that your feet hit the floor flat. Ideally the seat should be high enough so your elbows are close to your body and bend to a 90 degree angle to the keyboard and mouse.
- Back: Straight upright, not hunched – shoulders touching the chair (if possible), lower back snug to the seat
- Neck: aligned with the back – vertical, not at an angle. NOTE: for me we had to find a little box to pick my computer up off the desk a bit which was a better alignment of my neck and how I viewed the screen. I was sort of looking down, which was making me hunch and hurting my neck.
- She suggested that play with the distance of the computer screen a bit. If you sit all day at your computer, you probably already know this, but you can easily make the font on your screen larger by pressing Command, Shift and the + symbol. Saves you from the hunchy squinty bits (endemic to design work).
Here are some tips to get in some stretching | movement at your desk:
- Shoulder rolls: squeeze your shoulder blades together and rotate your shoulders around
- Hands and wrists: hold your arms straight out, fingers to the ceiling, hold a few seconds, palms to the floor, make fits and again with the rolling, clockwise, counter clockwise, 5 or 10x.
- Arms: extend your arms all the way out in any direction, open your hands and straighten all of your digits, wiggle your fingers a big. This will get the blood flowing and a position change is good. Put both arms in the air, let one drop behind your head, take the other arm and gently pull your elbow to your head to give you a little stretch which you may well feel in your arm pit and down your sides.
- Legs: extend them straight out from your body so they are parallel to the floor, point and flex your toes a few times and of course again roll them around a little bit – get that blood flowing.
- Shoulders and upper back: cross your arms in front of you grab the elbow of one arm with the other arm and give a stretch then swap sides.
Even better ways to get some movement:
- Leave your desk. Set your timer to go off once an hour and when you hear the ding move. For a while I was in the habit of doing a plank at the top of each hour for one minute. What surprised me most wasn’t how fit I quickly became, but how each hour came around so quickly!
- Don’t eat at your desk. Go eat your peanut butter in jelly while you stand over the kitchen sink. This also cuts down on the crumbs embedded into your keyboard.
- Go for a walk or a run. The reality is most of us can run 2 miles in 20 minutes, so if you organize yourself a bit I bet you can squeeze that into your day 3 or 4 times a week. Or if you work in an office try taking the stairs, remember to shout out “I am taking the stairs not the elevator.” This is not for the purpose of bragging about your fitness, but because if you are just starting to get in shape and have a heart attack in the stairwell you may stand a chance of someone thinking where to look if you turn up missing.
Now for my multi-tasking peeps out there:
- The treadmill desk. Now this I love, I have been talking about it for about a year (to myself in my head) and I actually saw one when I was down at Google headquarters in NYC. These range in price from the $39 build a treadmill desk variety to the $479 TrekDesk Treadmill Desk If you need the full rig, check out Exerpeutic 2000 WorkFit High Capacity Desk Station Treadmill for $730.
- If you are the type who really prefers to sit then then the FitDesk X1 Folding Exercise Bike with Sliding Desk Platform may be better suited for you. My neighbor Peter has the most super cool recumbent bike|desk thing, but I can’t seem to find it online at the moment. There are also these little mobile pedal exercisers that sell for $20 and you can tuck them right under your desk Pedal Exerciser
Need a Motivational Reminder?: You may think that you only need a fit tracker if you are in training for a big event. Life is probably your biggest event, so put that kooky thought out of your head.
- If you are strong enough to ignore l the voice in your head that is saying “Just Do It” you need to move to the next level. The Nike+ FuelBand is just the thing. It tracks your motion daily and anyone who has one is immediately more mobile and hooked. I wrote about it a while ago on WebShoo.
- Another popular Wireless Fit Tracker that I am seeing friends wear is the Fitbit which is around $50, considerably less expensive than the $150 for the FuelBand (and you can get it in hot pink or neon green). I know the Fitbit has online communities, so you can connect with your friends (real or virtual) and keep one another motivated!
- Get a virtual coach. My buddy Roger Miller of RippedandBuff.com can work with you virtually, you can read his blog, get his newsletter or put you on his Beach Body Team for free, regardless of geography.
Hydration: I have always been a huge water drinker; however, I was surprised by the facts surrounding hydration that Roger Miller shared on his blog. Most people do not get enough to drink during the day, so I thought I would share his video with you. Not to ruin it, but did you how when you drink your water and the temperature are important?
Now that Spring is here and the farm stands are open and we have access to a bigger variety of fruit I suggest you consider fruit infused water. It is so much better for you than an artificially flavored drink and really only takes two minutes to prepare. If you really want to get fancy (and I know you do) throw in a little fresh mint of basil.
Another idea: Nilofer Merchant has begun the trend of walk talks. Instead of meetings in your office or at a coffee shop, head out on a walk. Now for me, I despise meetings and most of them are held via Skype anyway, so walking around my block with my iPad pointed at my face would probably quickly put me atop the list of neighborhood curiosities (which would mean replacing the person who walks her cat in a pram). Seriously though, I would absolutely love the idea of chatting while hiking or moving along. I get a lot of great thinking done away from my desk, and I am sure this could be super productive.
Phew, I may be done: Please, tell me your thoughts. Did you know that sitting contributes to health risks? Do you have a strategy for movement during your day? Or eating or hydration? I really would love to continue the learning in the comments.
Actually, I wasn’t done! I just listened to this awesome podcast by Lewis Howes and his guest Carl Paoli. Carl gives an awesome explanation on how to train your body to sit properly! Harder than you may think. Lots of good info on the podcast, not just the sitting, I highly suggest you take the time to listen.