Writers beware: Sitting is the smoking of our generation!

January 21st, 2013 by

Lately I have spent a surprising amount of time thinking about the subject of sitting. My wife Rebecca, who is senior editor at The Creativity Post and a research maven, has sent me several articles about the dangers — yes, dangers! — of sitting. Like a recent piece from the Harvard Business Review blog:

As we work, we sit more than we do anything else. We’re averaging 9.3 hours a day, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping. Sitting is so prevalent and so pervasive that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it. And, everyone else is doing it also, so it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not okay. In that way, I’ve come to see that sitting is the smoking of our generation.

Of course, health studies conclude that people should sit less, and get up and move around. After 1 hour of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat declines by as much as 90%. Extended sitting slows the body’s metabolism affecting things like (good cholesterol) HDL levels in our bodies. Research shows that this lack of physical activity is directly tied to 6% of the impact for heart diseases, 7% for type 2 diabetes, and 10% for breast cancer, or colon cancer. You might already know that the death rate associated with obesity in the US is now 35 million. But do you know what it is in relationship to Tobacco? Just 3.5 million. The New York Times reported on another study, published last year in the journal Circulation that looked at nearly 9,000 Australians and found that for each additional hour of television a person sat and watched per day, the risk of dying rose by 11%. In that article, a doctor is quoted as saying that excessive sitting, which he defines as nine hours a day, is a lethal activity.

A “lethal activity”.

And so I ask these questions in all seriousness, knowing a majority of GITS readers are writers who sit for a substantial portion of each day: Are you worried about sitting so much? If so, what are you doing about it?

I do three things:

* First on my computer, I set a desktop alarm… or try to… so that every hour, it goes off, reminding me to get off my ass, walk around, stretch my muscles and so forth.

* Second for Christmas, Rebecca and I got each other a device that monitors our movements. [Totally weird because we had not discussed it beforehand at all, just complete serendipity.] Mine is from a company called Jawbone and it counts the number of steps I take each day as well as my sleeping patterns. What I have found since I’ve been wearing it is I am motivated to go to sleep earlier and to walk more, both presumably good things.

* Third I have a standing desk. Well, not really. I researched getting one for my office, then had an inspiration that one of the chairs I have for visitors might be just the perfect height for my laptop if I put it atop my desk. And sure enough, it is! So a couple of times each day, I lift the chair, put my computer on its seat, and stand there typing away for a half-hour or so.

How about you? Are you concerned about the scourge of sitting? Are you doing anything to combat the negative impact of ass-on-chair-itis?

I know it may sound silly, but if these scientific reports are to be believed, the amount of time we sit is directly attributable to decreased life-span. And with all of us chained to our computers, no wonder they talk about it as the smoking of our generation.

Excuse me… I have to stand up now!

For more of the Harvard Business Review article, go here.

12 thoughts on “Writers beware: Sitting is the smoking of our generation!

  1. Shaula Evans says:

    We just picked up a super-cheap adjustable height laptop desk to test out as a standing desk, Scott. Something like this. My husband is the product tester in chief, and so far, he’s really happy with it.

    In the past, we’ve used inflatibile exercise balls (like this) as desk chairs, too. The challenge for me is that I’m fairly short, so if I get a ball big enough to reach my desk, my feet don’t reach the floor (go ahead and laugh!) and I roll off the ball, but if I get a small enough ball, I can’t reach my desk! Combining the exercise ball with a cheap adjustable desk looks like it’s going to be a winning combination.

    The great thing with the ball is you’re always making slight adjustments to your balance, so it keeps you awake and alert. Active sitting.

    My brother has a swapper chair that he swears by but spending that much money isn’t practical for me. You can find them in ‘back stores’ if you want to try one out sometime.

    We’ve also tried Kneeling chairs in the past, and while we liked the idea, the particular chairs we bought (not the chair in the link) were poor quality and broke fairly quickly.

    The ultimate in standing desks would be a treadputer. My husband desperately wants to build one but our circumstances aren’t conducive (it’s hard to put a treadmill in the Mini). We look forward to working our way up to a treadputer though.

    1. Scott says:

      Shaula, you are an amazing resource on just about anything. Thanks for these!

      1. Shaula Evans says:

        You’re welcome, Scott. Thank YOU for the post. I got talking about it with my husband and when he got home from the shopping today, he had a brand new exercise ball for me. He likes his laptop desk so he’s going to get me to test it with the ball tomorrow and if I like it he’ll pick up a second one.

        And Traci, your treadputer sounds fantastic.

        @ TQA – for better or worse, I am the incarnation of physical comedy. The one time I tried a yoga class with “grown-up” sized exercise balls, I looked like a cross between Peter Sellers and Mr. Bean!

    2. My husband made a DIY treadputer. I like it better than just standing. I vary the incline and speed but can’t go much faster than level 2 and still type. But on frigid days like today, 2 degrees F, it’s awesome to work and workout.

  2. It’s easy to rock a few pushups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks in between scenes. There are a lot of exercises that can be done anywhere.

    Jogging also helps me feel better. And it often clears my brain-gunk out for better writing.

  3. Steven Enloe says:

    That’s a great reminder! You take care of all our writing needs. :-)

  4. WriterCarmen says:

    My husband and I bought ourselves a recumbent exercise bike for Christmas. I was thinking my TableMate desk would adjust high enough to allow me to type and cycle at the same time, but it lacks just a few inches of clearance. So we need another desk, but in the meantime I do several miles a day at variable speeds and resistance settings, doing at least my reading as I go, when I would ordinarily have been sitting during my reading time. The advantage of the recumbent factor is I can use my lumbar support cushion if/when I need it. The dovetailing makes all the difference for me mentally, since I don’t have to give myself over to either activity exclusively. I don’t feel like I have to choose. Really looking forward to finding the right desk.

  5. Scott says:

    I alternate running and biking, every other day, but with this wristband thingee, I’ve taken to looking for opportunities to walk and add steps. Plus, as I said, it’s been helping me drag my ass to bed earlier than I normally would.

  6. TheQuietAct says:

    I like walking for various reasons. Outdoors, fresh air, bird song, sunlight, beautiful views, it clears my head no end.

    Plus I don’t know if I’m just paranoid but I’ve noticed a lot of writers seem to get alzheimers, (walking is supposed to be good for preventing alzheimers).
    Maybe it’s because writers are generally people who like to keep their minds active and people who do keep their minds active tend to live to a ripe old age? Or as I said maybe I’m just paranoid.
    I’ve also noticed people who are as sharp as a whip in their old age are often musicians.

    I have no research evidence to back this up, it’s just a personal observation. I may be totally wide of the mark.
    I was watching a documentary on Terry Pratchett once and he seemingly goes for a long walk in open countryside everyday, unfortunately he is also suffering with alzheimers.

    But at every age, the lesson the oldies have imparted to me is you got to keep active to stay active.

    I’ve tried the exercise ball too Shaula but it just didn’t work for me.
    I didn’t realise you were so short. You paint a comical picture!

  7. I run, and try to workout about an hour each day. I know people can become complacent on this area when you’re so focused, and work becomes overwhelming – but I plan on staying healthy and working for a long time.

  8. Debra Jarvis says:

    I wrote an entire book riding a stationery bicycle and using an AirDesk. http://www.airdesks.com

    I just pedaled at a moderate rate while I wrote. The hardest part was butt pain. Oh, that and the blank screen. But because I was on a tight deadline and writing six hours/day it saved me. I would get off every 90 minutes and have a cup of tea and sit on a real chair. I still use the Air Desk!

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