12 ways to improve your health by sitting less (written while pedaling on a FitDesk)

If you commute (usually sitting) to a desk job (mostly sitting) and then go home and watch television (sitting) and/or spend a lot of time on your computer (sitting), even if you manage to work in an hour at the gym, your health is at risk.

You can Google to learn more about the science of this — and they’re just beginning to learn. I’m just here to give free advice on behavioral changes you can make.

To counteract all the sitting, you could consider:

  1. Cutting the car commute and work from home as much as possible. Seriously. Present this option to your manager as a way to cut their costs, improve your health, and therefore make you more productive!
  2. If you can’t avoid car commuting, every time you’re at a red light or stop sign or gridlocked in a traffic jam, stretch your legs, and tense and relax them several times. Really pull the muscles to the bone. (Okay, that’s the yoga teacher in me talking.) Point and flex your feet and rotate your ankles.
  3. Take public transportation and stand during your commute, a la New York City subway riders.
  4. Bicycle to and from work, or combine biking with riding the bus or light rail. Many now have bike racks available. You may want to request that your workplace provide showering facilities.
  5. At work, take frequent breaks (1-2 minutes every 20 minutes) to stand up and walk around. Set a timer and do it. Go get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, stretch, shake the tension out of your body, do a forward bend to stretch the backs of your legs. Walk to the best view from your building and partake of it to refresh your spirit.
  6. Sit on an exercise ball. You have to use your legs to balance. You can also bounce when no one is watching. It will strengthen your core muscles because there’s no back — you have to hold your torso up. This will burn more calories, if you’re interested in doing that.
  7. Instead of emailing, texting, or phoning, walk over to a colleague’s office to communicate with him/her. I know, I know, this is really analog, but it’s also refreshing. Think of how much more information you get from seeing their face and hearing their voice in person. You might even learn something about them from seeing their office decor.FitDesk
  8. Persuade your office to invest in a FitDesk. One FitDesk shared among eight employees sounds like a great start. I imagine 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the afternoon would make a big difference in the health and longevity of those eight employees, especially if they’re doing some of these other things when not pedaling. Of course, if your office can afford it, get a FitDesk for every employee! If you can’t afford it, you could phase this in over time as finances allow, as employees using it report they’re feeling better, missing less work, being in better moods, and being more productive, improving the company’s bottom line. Hey, maybe this is the key to the economic recovery and the obesity epidemic! FitDesks for every employee!
  9. When you get home, turn off the TV and computer and do something that uses your legs: cook, go for a walk, clean house, garden, do yard work, do yoga, lift weights, kick box, have sex, play with the dog, take a shower, swing your kids around, give them piggy-back rides, roughhouse, dance, put on a show. Also known as “living life” and “being embodied”.
  10. If you can’t eliminate TV or video games or Facebook or whatever is so compelling on your computer (okay, blogging and Facebook for me), limit it to an hour (with a break every 20 minutes; see #5 above) and get up during commercials unless you are on your feet while watching. Or…
  11. Get a FitDesk for your home so you can move your legs while watching TV and being on the computer.
  12. Do this with other people. It will be more fun.

Making the world a healthier place, one blog post at a time…

Tips to counteract a sedentary job

If you have a desk job that requires a lot of sitting and you’re concerned about the health risks now being associated with prolonged sitting, here are some things you can do that require no expense:

  • Use a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch and walk around every 30 or 60 minutes. Google “timer” to find a virtual timer you like. Aim for a few minutes of non-sitting movement every hour.
  • Find ways to walk more: Place your phone away from your desk, so you have to stand up and walk to it to make or answer calls. Use a small cup for your drinking water or beverage of choice (or fill your regular cup partway), and when it’s empty, get up to refill it. Don’t use the restroom that’s closest to your office — walk to a more distant one. Instead of emailing colleagues, walk to their offices to talk, when feasible.
  • Breathe fully and deeply, using your abdomen, moving your ribs front, sides, and back. Do 5 of these breaths, then return to normal breathing.
  • Take a yoga class on your lunch hour. Or do desk yoga (Google “rodney yee 4 minute”  to see videos of Rodney Yee doing seated sequences). You can evendo cat-cow ever so often while sitting: curl your spine forward and back a few times, exhaling when you curl forward, inhaling when you arch your back.
  • Close your door or put on your headphones, turn on your iPod or a music video, and dance!
  • Fidget and wiggle. Especially move your legs.

When you’re not at work, avoid sitting as much as you can:

  • If you drive to work and your car has no lumbar support, place two tennis balls inside a piece of pantyhose with a knot in the middle and at the ends. Put it behind your lumbar vertebrae and press into it as you drive. It will feel great — and you’ll know when you’ve had enough.
  • If you watch television in the evenings or on weekends, stand, use your treadmill, or bounce on an exercise ball while watching. If you sit, get up and move during commercials.
Sit on an exercise ball at work instead of a desk chair. It strengthens your core, improves balance, improves flexibility, burns more calories, and requires you to use your legs. You can get them for under $20. Get a 75 cm for the most height. 

All of these tips can make a difference, helping to lower blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol, and waist size; improve posture, breathing, and metabolism; and decrease back pain.

“If there’s a fountain of youth, it is probably physical activity,” says Yancey, noting that research has shown benefits to every organ system in the body.

Next: standing desks.

Antidotes for sedentary jobs: getting more life in your life

NPR is carrying a story about the health risks of a sedentary life, covered last week in the New York Times. (I blogged about it here.)

This story, Sitting All Day Is Worse For You Than You Might Think, is available for reading and listening by clicking the link.

This article recommends sitting on a stability ball (aka exercise ball) and taking frequent mini-breaks.

I’ve worked at sedentary jobs for many years. At my last job, after a period of not working and living an active life (walking, swimming, biking a lot), I took lunch-time yoga classes and brought in an exercise ball to sit on instead of using my office chair.

Many people, one at a time, asked me about it when they came by my office on another matter. I let them try mine if they liked. I believe one or two may have even got one for themselves.

(You know, I think I was kind of a pioneer, ahead of my time in that workplace. They probably saw me as being too “out there.” I don’t know, and actually it’s none of my business. My business is taking care of me. And now I’m moving away from sedentary work. My body just needs to move. I’m much happier and healthier.)

When you sit on an exercise ball, you use your leg muscles. It’s also easier to roll, bounce, sway, and otherwise get more movement into your day at a desk.

Also, without a back to lean against, using an exercise ball for a chair really works your core muscles. You have to hold your torso up with your muscles. That may be a little fatiguing at first. It took me a week to get used to it. I was never sore, though, just tired from the extra work until my body accommodated it.

I think I got my exercise ball at Target for $12.99. I’m not very tall, but the largest size worked for me. I think it was 75 mm.

They come with a foot pump. You fill it with enough air so that it’s firm. Every six months or so, you need to put more air in because either the rubber has stretched or it has leaked a tiny amount.

I used a large bent paper clip to pull the “nail” out of the air hole, pumped more air in, and replaced the nail.

You could put a square of duct tape over the nail if you’re worried about it popping or leaking.

I’m not sure how much weight they can hold. You can spend more for a burst-resistant ball.

If an exercise ball is not an option, the next best thing is to sit on the edge of your office chair rather than leaning against the back. At least you’ll strengthen your core muscles.

I like the idea of mini-breaks. Walk to the water fountain or restroom, or just take a walk around your workplace. As you walk past offices, listen to the sounds of people at work, catch snatches of phone conversations, hear how fast people type, smell various aromas, see how people personalize their office space, let your eyes rest from computer work by looking down the long hallways. Stretch, dance, do a minute of yoga.

It’s all good and puts more life in your life!