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How Bad is Sitting at Your Desk All Day? The Answer May Surprise You.

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June 11, 2013


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My hazardous work station.

My hazardous work station.

You’ve heard it before: Sitting for long periods of time is unhealthy.  Like, really unhealthy.

So what are you gonna do about it?

Like so many things in life, just knowing something’s unhealthy usually isn’t enough to avoid it—especially if it’s part of your daily habit.

I’m a pretty fidgety person, but I know I still sit too much. How can you not? For many of us, our jobs are designed around our chairs. Eight hours in the workday, spent focused on tasks or sometimes just trying to make it to 5 o’clock; either way, it’s hard to get out of the chair—especially at regular intervals. And I, for one, hate to tear myself away from a problematic paragraph. I can burn an hour, easy, just trying to get a couple of sentences straight.

But here’s the thing: It’s not like you have to take a walk or do calisthenics in front of your baffled coworkers. Just getting your butt out of the chair for a couple minutes two or three times an hour can make a huge difference.

So yesterday, being an impulsive person who will opt for an immediate stop-gap instead of a customized and well-considered solution, I gave this a shot: I put a blank appointment in my Outlook calendar, which I use for everything from meeting schedules to grocery list reminders. (There are also other, higher-tech, specialty options, like this here.)

At 10:30 a.m., the appointment reminder popped up. I set the snooze for 30 minutes (20 minutes isn’t an option, and 15 sounded too frequent), clicked the button, and took a stroll to the kitchen to get some coffee.

Thirty minutes later, it popped up again. I clicked snooze, stood up and continued to read proofs right there at my desk, on my feet.

And I’ve stuck with it—every time the reminder pops up, I go to the kitchen or the restroom or just stand up for two minutes.

What’s really interesting to me is that, I thought the whole “sitting is bad for you” thing was one of those medical conclusions that we just have to take on faith without really noticing the effects in the short-term. But no: It really does feel good to stop sitting. It’s like when you don’t realize you’re cold until you step into the warm sun: You probably don’t realize how much you want to stand up until you make yourself do it.

Even more surprising than the immediate physical benefit, it’s been mentally refreshing, too. I know you’re probably thinking that a thing popping up repeatedly like that is annoying—and for some people, it probably is—but it turns out, it’s a nice little reset button for me. Sure I can burn an hour fretting over a paragraph, but that might not be the healthiest (or most productive) mindset. And at the very least, I can still type while standing up. (It gives me a different perspective, so to speak.) Heck, paragraph four of this blog was written from the standing position.

We’ll see how it works for the long-run, but as of day two, my legs—and my brain—appreciate the stretch.

Read Hannah Wallace’s “Health Report” in our June issue.

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