I am going to be frank with you: At some point in the future, you will die. And unless my funding comes through for implanting my brain into a giant robot body, so will I.
Personally I’d like to hold off that day for as long as possible, but at times it seems like everything is trying to kill me. Even my own chair!
Yes, that evil, psychotic, heinously comfy chair that I work on, that I sit on even now typing these words to you, dear reader, is secretly plotting my imminent demise. Throw all the chairs on the bonfire! Down with the tyranny of the chaise longue!
Despite what the Daily Mail screams in a shrill voice, sitting down is probably not quite as bad as smoking cigarettes. Those things definitely will kill you, and you should stop.
The problem I have, like most people, is that I like sitting down to relax, to work, and to drink tea. The other problem we all have is that we humans are not particularly well adapted for a sedentary lifestyle. Que lastima.
When studies come out like this one that suggest a link between a high proportion of inactive hours in the day and early death, it may be time to have a think about mindful ways in which we can modify our lives to avoid the worst impacts of the dangerous pastime of… um… Watching telly.
1. On average, we sit for 60% of our day
Without making the plea to history fallacy, in the late 19th century your average human in the West stood for 90% of their waking hours. Sure, you still might die at 35 from cholera, but you probably weren’t going to spend an hour sat on a bus, followed by eight hours of sitting down at work, followed by an hour watching Game of Thrones. Part of the trouble we have today is the way we sit at a table has not really changed much in the last thousand years or so.
The humble chair has done its job for centuries quite happily for two reasons. Firstly, it is a relatively simple design that is quite comfortable. Secondly, chairs were never meant to be lived in. See these chaps in this picture it’s quite clear that this is their down time. They’ve been out doing seventeenth-century stuff all day.
Our lifestyles have changed, but our chairs have not. Until recently, that is. Chairs like this take an approach to solving one of the problems of a sedentary lifestyle- the C-curved spine. Straightening the spine leads to better breathing, eliminating that tension that lives in between your shoulder blades, and various other posture problems we’ve managed to give ourselves through using 12th-century technology for 21st-century lifestyles. Can you imagine any other part of our society in which we still do that?
2. Sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of cardiovascular disease
“For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking,” ~ Martha Grogan, Cardiologist, Mayo Clinic
Ok, so the Daily Mail got it kind of right. Sitting down is as bad as some aspects of smoking. Anyway, what we can do is calculate how much time we are spending sitting down, and modify that. There’s a calculator here that will help you do it. The problem we have as a culture is not that we are just lazy slobs who do not work out, but that working out is not enough. It is the length of time we sit that is the problem. Adjustable workstations are one solution that has been developed to allow office workers to mix up their day, something I'm certainly considering investing in.
3. We are not NEAT anymore
NEAT stands for NonExercise Activity Thermogenesis, which I’ve already forgotten after typing it. What it means is that until recently we got up and moved around, while at work. Now we can do most things from our desks. No queuing at the printer, we order in food from an app, and no-one even walks to the post office anymore, because there’s nothing to send. Anyone who tells you they are going to the post office is probably lying.
What we can do to boost our activity levels is alter our routines. Take the car parking spot further from your office. Take the stairs. Yeah, basic stuff, but it all adds up to keeping your spine from turning into a fragile piece of balsa wood.
4. Depression, Ennui and Cubicle Claustrophobia
If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: Sitting down is depressing. We’ve come a long way as a culture with understanding and destigmatising depression, but trust me, if you’ve never had it, you do not want it. It is as far from a cool thing to have as you can get.
If you have a desk job, feel free to cite these studies to encourage your boss to allow for time stood up, moving around and not being chained to the desk. If your boss is not too keen, maybe point out that standing up increases productivity by up to 10%.
5. Inactive body = inactive spirit
We’ve all had that feeling we are slowly wasting away to nothing, right? You could argue that this is partly behind the increase in recent years in people working out and getting into shape, following fad diets and looking for miracle healing plants. If the root of this dissatisfaction with our physical well-being is rooted in our lifestyles, and our lifestyles are sedentary… what does that tell us?
Now I am going to suggest something for office workers that will make you feel like a bit silly the first time you try it. Tai Chi. Yoga would be good too, but I’ve practiced Tai Chi and not much yoga. Internal martial arts encourage balance over strength, fluidity over pumping iron. And if you don't fancy Tai Chi, just try regular stretching and walks through the day.
We disconnect from our reality all day through screens of varying sizes, worshipping pixels and ignoring the biological entity that we are. Reconnecting ourselves to ourselves is surely something we need now, more than any other time in our history. Tai Chi is also great for relaxing the muscles, and the techniques you learn will improve your posture, calm your mind, and enable you to find the moments of peace within your busy day.
We may not be able to change our world around us, but we can change how we move within it.