Sitting Is Killing You

chairSitting is killing me -- and probably you, too. A study published earlier this year found that sitting for eleven hours a day or more makes you 40% more likely to die compared to those who sit four hours or less a day. Shorter stretches of sitting have health risks, too: A British study showed that, after a few decades, sitting for more than just six hours a day can shave seven "quality-adjusted" years off your life, increase your risk of dying from heart disease by 64%, and increase your risk of breast or prostate cancer by 30%. Exercising vigorously during your non-sitting hours doesn't help.

You don't have to wait decades to experience the ill effects of sitting. As soon as you sit down, electrical activity in your leg muscles shuts off. Your body burns calories at a pitiful one per minute. The amount of enzymes in your body that break down fat drops by 90%. After two hours of sitting, your good cholesterol drops by 20%.

As a writer and editor, I have the epitome of a desk job. Yet seven years is a long time. How, I wondered, can you work at a desk most of the day and stand up lots? Without having all your colleagues think you're nuts?

The British study refers repeatedly to "prolonged sitting," and the authors write that "Commonsense might suggest that it may be prudent to try to minimise prolonged sitting with 5 minute breaks every hour." Then they say that, without another study, they can't tell if that would really help. I thought I'd try it anyway

I could get a standing desk, of course. I could set a timer on my computer or smartphone to remind me to get up every hour, but the last thing I need is more interruptions.

No, I thought I could do this on my own.

A five-minute break every hour. No problem. The first day I tried this, I was working in the New York offices of Inc. I decided that every time I finished editing a story and prepping it to go online, I would get up and walk around.

The problem is that I'd already built a 'break' into my workflow after I finish each story: I check my email, and I check various social media sites to see how our stories are doing and to respond to readers. That's a lot less intense than editing, and mentally, it serves as a break. But it is completely sedentary, and, as far as adding quality-adjusted years to my life, totally unhelpful.

My next idea was to block out certain times of the day for personal email and social media. If I caught myself going on social media sites outside of those time blocks, it meant I had to get up and walk around the floor. Easy, right?

I couldn't do it. Not regularly. Not six or seven times a day. I was just too self-conscious. I was acutely aware that by walking around, I wasn't getting anything done, and of course I convinced myself that everyone else was looking at me funny.

Part of the problem is that I know a five-minute break is not going to recharge my brain. I can sometimes justify a 15-minute walk away from my work, because the odds are pretty good that during that time some fresh idea or new approach to a problem will pop into my head. Fifteen minutes can be totally productive. But five minutes doing laps around the office was just weird.

I had better luck when I worked from home. All of a sudden, those five minutes were great. I looked forward to them. Edit a story, throw in the laundry! Edit a story, unload the dishwasher! Perfect. Of course, this is exactly what my co-founder Connie Guglielmo warns against in her piece on multi-tasking mania, but it worked for me.

Then things got really strange: We lost internet service and I went to our public library to work. All of a sudden, subconsciously, it almost became a point of pride to see how long I could go without getting up. Wha?? I felt super-productive if I could just sit there for two hours without losing my concentration. Forget about walking around the block, I didn't even want to walk to the bathroom!

I haven't given up, and I'm not setting a timer on my laptop just yet. If I get lost in concentration, frankly, I want to stay there. But I am much more aware of the 'breaks' that don't really help. If I'm checking twitter, it's time to get up. If I have a conference call, I'm standing up. And if you see some semi-distracted person walking laps around your office? That's me, standing up. -- Kimberly Weisul


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Why We Miss Marissa Mayer. Already.

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image courtesy of flickr user emdot

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