Blogging is killing you.
I don’t mean the stress of cranking out deathless prose or even the coffee you gulp by the gallon.
Blogging is killing you because you sit hunched over your laptop. All day long.
Science has spoken: Sitting will be the death of you — and me.
None of this is news, of course. We’ve known for a while that even if you faithfully get to the gym, all that sitting wipes out any benefit from the measly few minutes you spend huffing and puffing on the elliptical.
Dr. David Agus puts it bluntly:
[Sitting for more than 5 hours a day is] equivalent on a health basis to smoking a pack and a quarter of cigarettes.
Chair time is associated with all the heavy hitters: heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and obesity. (That’s because sitting doesn’t make you less hungry. Darn.) This 2012 report on inactivity from the National Center for Biotechnology Information makes for especially gloomy reading.
I don’t know about you, but my first reaction was a kind of paralysis. (Ironic, right?)
Move? When I’m under deadline? Sure, those are those rare times I get out of my chair to go to the bathroom or get more coffee. But how can I move more when I earn a living hunched over a keyboard? (We’ll talk about your posture another time…)
It’s not just a 9-to-5 problem; after sitting at work, most of us rush home (or in our case, step away from our laptops) to plop down on the couch in front of a screen of one size or another. Not exactly helpful.
Being a writer, I decided to research my options before having a coffin fitting.
The price of standing up on the job
There’s always someone looking to make a buck on our mortality, and the alternatives to sitting are no different. Perhaps you’re more coordinated than I am, but I find standing desks awkward and walking desks downright horrifying.
Besides, I’m on a budget, people! I have bills to pay and would prefer that one of them wasn’t for my swanky treadmill desk.
While I’ve had a little luck with standing and walking meetings, popularized by such luminaries (and zillionaires) as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, they still don’t address the reality of being chained to a desk all day.
And maybe your experience is different, but clients think you’re nuts if you pop out of your seat during a meeting and go stand in a corner. We have enough problems wooing paying customers without our sanity being questioned.
The most genius solution is also FREE!
Miraculously, the cure to what’s killing you is surprisingly simple. And cheap, as in free:
Every 20 minutes, stand up. Move around a bit. Rinse and repeat.
That’s the advice from Gretchen Reynolds, a weekly columnist at The New York Times. She wanted to find a simple solution to the quandary of our sedentary lifestyles.
Reynolds learned something remarkable while researching her book on the subject: Most of the benefits of exercise are packed into the first 20 minutes of moving. The rest, she says, is “gravy.” So little bursts of activity on a regular basis have a huge payoff.
And here’s the money quote from her interview in The New York Times:
I really do stand up at least every 20 minutes now… The science is really clear that [sitting] is very unhealthy, and it promotes all sorts of disease… You don’t even have to move. I’m standing up right now as I talk on the phone. I stand during most of my interviews now.
You don’t need a trainer. You don’t need a gym membership. You don’t need a geeky gadget on your wrist. All you need is a timer. And they’re everywhere. Heck, your phone has one, and your laptop. (Although I prefer my egg timer that’s shaped like a happy chicken.).
I almost wept with joy.
The numbers back me up
I corralled prices on the various options for desks and fitness trackers and put together a little table for you. (Note: your elevated heart rate on seeing these prices does not qualify as exercise.)
I included my beloved chicken timer and Reynolds’ book, The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer. (I think she needed an editor for that title!) It’s not expensive, so you might think it’s a worthwhile purchase. But trust me: It’s even cheaper at your local library.
You can also cobble together a DIY standing desk, using these hacks from IKEA. Not for the faint of heart. And the cheapest version is still $139, plus your labor. And the priceless mental anguish.
The verdict? Free is better.
How to save your life
Inspired by Reynolds, I came up with my own action plan to avoid dropping dead under deadline.
1. When you’re at your desk, set a timer for that magical 20 minutes
I stand up. I might walk in circles or multi-task. Maybe I get clothes out of the dryer (although I don’t fold them, of course) and sometimes, just to be a show-off, I do some jumping jacks. A couple a times a day I take a well-deserved dance break. Then I’m back at it again.
You know what really surprised me? This is actually a great time management tool. I’m more focused and more productive when I know a clock is ticking and when I’m moving more. A win-win!
So I’m going to sound like a Pollyana, but I don’t care. I am a convert at the altar of movement. I feel better now that I’m more active.
My legs don’t fall asleep, as Sophie recently shared happens to her when she sits for too long. My brain appears to be in better shape too: not as fuzzy and mushy. And I don’t get caught in that horrible downward spiral that happens when I’m browsing the Internet, which leaves me feeling every bit as lousy as if I’d just ate a box of cookies.
2. When you answer the phone or get a text, stand up
This was one of Reynold’s tips that I thought was so smart. You work at home, all by your lonesome. No one sees you popping up like a jack-in-a-box whenever you answer your phone.
I’ve started checking my email on my phone just for a chance to stand up.
Given all the disruptions that come with a day’s work, it’s actually a minor miracle when you can sit down for more than 10 minutes at a time.
3. Build movement into other parts of your day
When you’re running errands, find the farthest spot in the parking lot. Take the stairs, not the elevator. I now smile at the sight of a long line at Starbucks. You see where I’m going with this. Being attentive to opportunity is the trick here.
There’s also exciting evidence that short workouts throughout the day can be a solution for people who can’t get to the gym at all.
Your assignment: Create your movement plan
It’s a beautiful thing. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to combating the risks of sitting… and you can infinitely improve your chances for success by customizing your own plan.
But don’t keep all this great stuff to yourself. I’m sure you know at least one other writer in the death throes of sitting right now. Throw out that life preserver and share this post with them!
And I’d love to know what ideas you plan to try. I have a friend who stands up when she watches TV. That sounds painful to me, so sometimes I alternate lounging on the couch with jumping jacks. (I love them.) We can’t count on those old-fashioned commercial interruptions anymore, so I just set my timer and stand up for my health.
Your turn: What are your best tips for moving into a long, healthy blogging life?