My Chair, My Enemy

“Your chair is your enemy,” starts the New York Times article Stand Up While You Read This!

To give you the thesis of the article, here are the next two paragraphs in the article:

It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.

That, at least, is the conclusion of several recent studies. Indeed, if you consider only healthy people who exercise regularly, those who sit the most during the rest of the day have larger waists and worse profiles of blood pressure and blood sugar than those who sit less. Among people who sit in front of the television for more than three hours each day, those who exercise are as fat as those who don’t: sitting a lot appears to offset some of the benefits of jogging a lot.

There are two reasons that sitting all day is bad for you:

  • Sitting burns so few calories. Even standing in place burns more calories, what with the work your leg muscles do. Since weight gain is a slow, creeping thing, and little things like eating 30 more calories than you burn is enough to lead to 2 – 3 pounds of weight gain a year. 30 calories is a handful of potato chips!
  • Sitting causes your body to do things that are bad for you. When you sit for long periods, your body stops producing lipoprotein lipase, which is important for processing fats, and your metabolism slows down to match the inactivity.

If you’re self-employed, a mobile worker or have an understanding manager, you can take frequent breaks to do something out of your chair. As a Developer Evangelist with Microsoft, I’m a mobile worker and have taken advantage of the arrangement to do things like:

  • When working at the home office, taking the occasional break to run errands on foot or get some quick household chore done.
  • Going to the gym in the middle of the day, when it’s not crowded. An unexpected side-effect: many of my retired neighbours, who are at the gym in the middle of the day, think I’m sort of unemployed ne’er-do-well.
  • Switching venues: I try to work part of the day at the home office, and part of the day elsewhere, either a wifi-equipped cafe or HacklabTO. Many of these venue changes incorporate a bike ride anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes each way.

It’s worked out pretty well so far; since joining Microsoft, I’ve lost about 12 pounds.

But what if you’ve got an urgent project? Those interruptions are deadly to the sort of “flow” you need to get complex tasks done. One answer might be a “stand up” workstation, where the desk is mounted high enough so that you can use it in the standing position. A more extreme solution is the one pictured at the top of this article – yes, that things is real – Steelcase’s “Walkstation”, a workstation with integrated treadmill. Not only do you get some exercise while you work, the more poetic of you can treat it as an in-your-face metaphor for corporate life below the VP level.

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.

5 replies on “My Chair, My Enemy”

I agree with Milan, it would be distracting to be walking on the treadmill.
Anyway, what if you don’t sit in front of the tv but lie down (in the sofa)? good? bad?

This is quite the coincidence – I’ve been preparing a blog post on the “Office of the Future” myself! Even though some may scoff at the idea, I think it is great and I can’t help but want one.

And I think there’s actually quite a lot of research being done about the benefits of walking slowly while “working” – Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic is all over it. Maybe it is controversial, but personally, I think it beats just sitting in a comfy office chair any day.

Leave a Reply