Sitting is Bad for You

This week’s cultural blogging assignment was to reflect on one of the various issues facing the tech industry. Suggestions included ‘Diversity in Tech’, ‘Designing for Accessibility’, and ‘Online Security’. I decided to approach the question from a broader perspective. I think that one of the most prevalent issues in the tech industry today (and in many other industries, besides) is cultivating optimal physical health while suceeding at work in a traditional desk job environment.

The Bad

The United States can be aptly described as the ‘Desk Potato Nation’, and that’s not okay. The sedentary lifestyle is contrary to our biological needs as people. Sedentary humans run into an entire host of problems. Among them: obesity, heart disease, depression, diabetes, and spinal issues.

There’s plenty of internet advice on how to mitigate or reduce the impact of sitting all day, but what I’m interested in, for myself and others, is optimum mental, physical, and emotional health.

How do we fix it?

There are ways to address this issue while we wait for office culture to transition to something better:

  1. Stand once every 20-60 minutes (find an interval that works with your workflow).
  2. Engage in 30 minutes of moderate activity every day.

Strategies for remembering to stand:

  • Set an alarm on your phone, computer, watch, or fitness tracker to your ideal interval (I like 25 minute intervals).
  • Get water / take a bathroom break - a friend of mine employs this strategy. He assures me that it becomes self-perpetuating once your body gets used to a certain level of hydration.

Strategies for moving for a minimum of 30 minutes per day:

  • Take walking meetings.
  • Use lunch breaks to move away from your desk.
  • Tidy your work space.
  • Exercise before or after work, or during your lunch break.
  • It’s not necessary to move for 30 contiguous minutes - three chunks of 10 minutes of movement is just as good. Nor do you need to be operating with any kind of intensity. A brisk walk will more than suffice. The point is to move, and to be disciplined about moving every day.

Potential Roadblocks:

  • The perception that standing breaks might break your concentration.

My response - try it. I’ve found that stepping away from a problem for 10 minutes or less doesn’t pull me ‘out’ at all and actually gives me the opportunity to approach the problem with more expansive thinking.

  • The need to fit in.

It’s entirely possible to be subtle about your interest in good health. I know what it’s like to work somewhere where the expectation is that you are at your desk all the time, and you don’t leave for lunch. If that’s your situation, use the water trick described above. No one’s going to yell at you for water or bathroom breaks.

The perception that if you’re exercising, you’re not working, and if you’re working you’re not exercising. Be efficient; do both at once! Break the work|exercise barrier! (Walking meetings are a fabulous example of this strategy).

I’m not going to list the ways sitting harms - there’s enough written on that topic already. I do want to say that for the sake of our health as a nation, I hope we can change. The incentives are there - for individuals and for corporations. Healthy employees are more productive employees, after all.

If you would like to brainstorm more solutions, or if you think I missed a major roadblock, please shoot me a message. I’m happy to discuss this issue at length.