Engineering

Your chair may be trying to kill you – and what to do about it

Perhaps you consider yourself to be pretty healthy. After all, you go to the gym or play sports several times a week. But what are you doing the rest of the day?

If you spend most of your day sitting down, you’re probably not as healthy as you think.

We all know that exercise is good for us. But did you know it’s only a tiny part of the equation?

If you imagine two circles, exercise is just a tiny part of our overall movement. In a typical waking day of 15-16 hours, a 30-minute workout is only a little over 3% of your day.

New data shows that as little as one or two hours of uninterrupted sitting can affect how you process your blood sugar, and can increase risk of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, even if you exercise regularly. – Dr. Joan Vernikos

Indeed, for me, as a software developer, it’s easy to be so focused on your work and in the flow that you can sit for hours without moving. However, research has shown that 90 minutes is about the maximum time that we have maximal focus. Further time after that, while we might feel like we’re still in the zone, we are less effective.

More than that, though, our bodies are designed for movement. Dr Joan Vernikos, who worked for NASA, studied the effects of weightlessness on health and found that sitting too much means you’ll experience the same adverse effects that astronauts experience in the reduced gravity of space. Essentially, gravity deprivation in one form or another accelerates the ageing process. Being immobile by sitting or lying down for prolonged periods reduces the influence of gravity on your body, so much so that sitting is considered an independent risk factor for many chronic diseases.

The solution is ridiculously simple. Get up and move regularly, and find opportunities to move throughout the day. Did you know that almost all of the trillions of cells within our bodies have a receptor for movement? The human body is designed to be a perpetual motion machine.

At a minimum, stand up once every 30 minutes. Standing up, even for just a few moments, helps to reset our metabolic processes. We want to increase the frequency and variability of our movement. We should strive to alternate from sitting to standing, to bending over, squatting, jumping, stretching, kneeling, and even lying fully prone on your front or back, and then getting up again. The more you move, the better. By moving more, we subject our cells to stimulating sensations in the field of gravity.

Find reasons to build ‘movement breaks’ into your day. This could involve games, dancing, or any activity that breaks the monotony and gets you moving.

If you feel self-conscious simply standing up and sitting straight back down, then why not take a short stroll to the kitchen or bathroom? If no one’s looking, do a quick press-up, touch your toes, or do a squat or two.

I use meetings as a chance to stand and alternate from sitting. In software development, a common practice of agile teams is quick daily check-ins known as standups. Everyone standing encourages speed because no one wants to stand for a long time. It also gives you a reason to stand up. Even if you’re working remotely, stand up. There are some other benefits to standing in meetings, which I’ll talk about in future emails.

I use a standing desk, which allows me to quickly alternate between sitting and standing and use my computer comfortably during meetings. Remember, though, just as you don’t want to sit all the time, you shouldn’t stand all the time, either. Standing all day can cause different health issues. As with everything, finding the virtuous mean is vital.

Find OTMs

Find Opportunities To Move (OTM), all day, every day. For example, why not make it a habit when you go to the supermarket to park at the far end of the car park – there’s less jostling for spaces, and you get to spend a few more moments moving.

Stop making sedentary choices; choose movement over convenience and laziness to avoid falling into the trap of being active yet sedentary. Investing in daily movement might shock you at just how much impact it will have on your daily energy levels. You’ll be more awake and be able to focus longer. A longer, healthier life is the side benefit.

Now, on your feet. It’s time to stand!

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

As Katy Bowman says in Movement Matters, “You were born into a sedentary culture, so 99.9 percent of your sedentary behaviours are flying under your radar. Start paying attention. What do you see?”

In your Thinking Time this week, consider how you’re spending your days in terms of movement. What exercise do you do? And when do you move?

Think about how you can get more movement into your day. What habits or reminders could you implement to remember to move regularly?

Can you rearchitect your days and stack several beneficial things together? For example, instead of driving your kids to school, walk. It’s great movement, you all get more sunlight, and your children are a captive audience, so you get extra time to connect with them.