By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The new catch phrase I’m hearing is “Sitting is the New Smoking.” This statement conveys so much. It triggers memories about my dad, who died when I was 18, and he was 49. He was a smoker, and survived two heart attacks and a stroke before he died on his third heart attack. I always wondered how long he would have lived if he had never smoked. It’s a shame he didn’t learn that smoking was bad when he was growing up, but that knowledge just wasn’t common back then. What future common knowledge are we missing out on now? Is sitting really the new smoking?
I have to wonder if my life would have been different if I had known sitting was so bad. I’ve had back problems for years, and at the moment I’m having neck problems, with a pinched nerve. Writing this essay is causing increasing pain in my arm. And the pain is more than physical. I am reminded of a classic episode of The Twilight Zone about a bookworm named Henry Beamis. All he wanted to do was read put people wouldn’t let him. Finally he’s the last man on Earth and has all the time in the world to read, and he breaks his glasses. I retired thinking I’d have all the time in the world to write and read, and at this moment I can’t do either without aggravating my pains. I’ve become Henry Beamis.
Pack Matthews gives me hope though in his TED Talk, “Sitting is the New Smoking but you’ve got Options.”
Matthews says pains are like canaries in a coal mine, warning us that we need to do something different immediately. But he also promises that we’re never too old to improve. Our body’s ability to readapt is impressive. This video is well worth watching. Even if you’re not suffering, knowing that sitting is the new smoking when you’re young and healthy is very important too.
When I was a kid I was very active, but as the decades progressed I’ve become more and more sedentary. Even when I was a programmer and sat at my chair all day long I got up a lot, helping people out all over a four story building, and often in other buildings. Now that I’m retired I spend almost all my time sitting, and its caught up to me. I’ve got to develop routines of more activity. In the video above, Matthews shows people a simple test to measure potential longevity as it relates to physical mobility. Currently, I’d score very low. But he promises that it’s possible to increase my score.
Watch the video and try the test yourself. You might be surprised.
Just how bad is the sedentary lifestyle? Is it truly equal to the life-shortening effects of cigarettes consumption? The studies aren’t saying skipping exercise is bad for you, but the actual act of prolonged sitting is bad, and even causes cancer. The trouble is we all do a lot of sitting. Most of us work at a desk all day long at work or school, then we come home and watch TV for hours, or sit at the computer or play video games. Even the educational pastime of reading which is good for your mind is bad for your body.
Just read some of the many articles on Google about this topic.
The conundrum we face is how to integrate more activity into our ass-in-the-chair lives. I’ve been laid up where the only comfortable position I can find is reclined in a La-Z-Boy has made me think of alternatives for not being able to sit at my desk. One thing I’ve considered is dictating my writing and converting it with Dragon Dictate to Word files. That same solution would work with walking and standing. However, my spinal stenosis and degenerative disc problems limit my walking, but I am trying to walk more.
Matthews wasn’t the only TED Talker to attack sitting. Nilofer Merchant presented “Got a meeting? Take a walk.”
Of course, my problem is writing at the computer. How can I take a walk and write? Well, people have come up with a solution, the treadmill desk. I’ve seen stories about them on TV, and there’s lots about them on the Internet. Here Jordan Keyes talks about this treadmill desk after using it for almost two years.
The above video didn’t say much about the health value of using a treadmill desk to me until I saw this older video, when we see Keyes in a much larger body. Of course, he’s doing more than walking and typing to lose weight, but the two videos do effectively show how his efforts have made a change in his life.
But not everyone likes treadmill desks. I’m not quite ready to spend $1200-1500 yet, but I’m thinking hard about this. If anyone reading this blog uses a treadmill desk, please leave a comment below.
There are many things to consider in such a setup. Unless you’re always working at the treadmill desk you’ll have to have a sit down desk also, meaning two computer setups, or using a laptop you move around a lot. Many people are using standing desks that can adjust to sitting and standing. These come in a huge variety. And it’s possible to get just a flat treadmill to move under such an adjustable desk.
But if we stand around all the time, won’t standing become the new sitting? I would imagine the key is to keep moving in lots of positions. It’s really not practical to avoid sitting all day long. I often see advice suggesting we get up and move around more, maybe once an hour. I was recently told to think of my posture every time I go through a doorway, and was even given some exercises to try using with the doorway. My chiropractor told me my ears should be above my shoulder, and that I had bad posture. This fit right in with this graphic about ergonomics at the computer workstation.
Note how they want ears, shoulders and hip to line up. I’ve developed sort of an old man slump, with my head tilted forward like a turtle’s head coming out of its shell.
I’ve always learned a lot physical therapy. I think what I need to do, or even what we all need to do, if spend a few moments each hour doing yoga and physical therapy stretches. I’ve already begun to ride my exercise bike more while watching television, but dang, even that involves sitting.
Sitting might be the new smoking, but giving up sitting is going to be impossible, at least for me, so the most I can hope for is keeping my ass out of the chair as much as possible.