Are you sitting too long?
If you are, it could be killing you.
If you’ve had even half an eye on the health section of your newspaper, you’ll know this. Sitting is bad for us.
And so the rush for standing desks. But, it turns out, that isn’t the solution either. We take a look at what you should really be doing if you value your health (and your creativity).
The writer’s life
No two writers live the same work life. From the professional writer typing copy from their office desk, to the almost published author, rushing from their day job to the couch at home to scribble out edits of their first book, everyone’s lifestyle is different when it comes to writing.
But no matter where you write, chances are, you do it sitting down – and this, it seems, is killing you.
The evidence (if you needed it!)
According to a study running in the Annals of International Medicine that examined the lifestyle of over 17,000 men and women over 13 years, sitting down for long periods of time dramatically increases our odds of developing a disease, or a health condition that will send you to an early grave.
However, it is not the act of sitting down that is so harmful, but the length of time you do it for.
In fact, it’s not even the sitting; it’s the not moving that causes your electrical activity in the muscles to drop causing havoc to your metabolism, your calorie-burning rate and your insulin effectiveness, which, all together spells disaster for your body.
Sitting, is OK, it seems, just as long as we don’t do it for too long.
Three changes you must make if you value your health
Keeping this in mind, here are three simple changes you can make in your writing environment that will cut down the amount of time spent sitting, and drastically reduce your chances of developing sedentary related health problems.
1. Hit the carpet
Some offices have treadmill desks, gym balls and cycle laptops. Chances are, yours doesn’t. Instead, use every opportunity where you’re not physically typing, to be walking around.
The figure of 10,000 steps per day is often quoted as the ideal amount of exercise. But why?
The number comes from a study published in the Utah Sports Medicine Journal written by Caterine Tudor-Locke and David Bassett and they also found that if you are moving fewer than 5,000 steps then you are sitting too long and your lifestyle is ‘sedentary’.
But don’t worry, on the positive side, Dr. Clay Marsh from Ohio State University says that any movement more than your current level of activity is good and has health benefits — so the old adage ‘move more’ is indeed true.
This doesn’t mean you have to walk in circles or jog to work every day (although medium to high-level exercise is recommended). Remember — if you then sit all day, that long period without movement means you can lose the benefit gained from your early morning burst of exercise.
What it does means instead is to work light walking or some other movement into your routine.
- Whenever you make a phone call, walk around your office until you need to write something down.
- Better yet, if you’re seeing clients or having meetings, go and visit instead of picking up the phone. Or have a walking meeting instead of the coffee shop.
- And, if you work from home, write in the room furthest away from the bathroom or the kitchen, making it necessary to walk just a little bit more when you take a break.
However you fit the extra steps in, make sure they happen at least once an hour so the electric activity in your muscles is constantly remaining charged.
2. A stand-up desk
Obviously it’s not realistic for you to author a whole book while strolling around your living room. For a more realistic option, invest in a stand-up desk.
Stand-up desks are not just a Silicon Valley fad; they are starting to go mainstream, with many offices incorporating them as part of their health schemes.
However, although it has been scientifically proven – using small case studies such as this one from a start-up incubator in Latvia – that standing up increases productivity by up to 10%, the reality is that other than that, standing up all day doesn’t actually do that much for your health. In fact, the extra pressure on your vessels to push blood flow upwards for hours a day actually causes a lot of extra work for your heart.
So why recommend a stand-up desk?
Because, as this article from The Boston Globe by Deborah Kotz explains, while the benefits of standing up all day are limited, the act of switching between sitting down and standing up can be the movement that becomes life-changing.
As Mikael Cho, the co-founder of Crew, discovered when he built himself a standing desk, standing up all day is really uncomfortable. So use it as an alternative.
Cho found the standing desk useful for answering emails, because standing up became uncomfortable quickly, therefore he only had a limited time to get his emails sent (this might also explain the increase in productivity!).
So pick one or two of your regular activities – for example, proof reading your copy – which you will complete only at your standing desk, and leave the rest to your seat.
The act of getting up, standing, sitting back down again, is much better then standing, and infinitely better than sitting for that whole amount of time.
3. Change position
There are a million and one different websites offering advice about the ‘best’ posture for working at a computer – as a writer, I’m sure you’ve googled it at least once.
Common advice normally tells you one of two things: ‘sit up straight’, or the oft-quoted evidence from Dr. Bashir’s study that shows that sitting at a 135° angle is the ideal position.
Neither of these are particularly achievable positions, as both get uncomfortable after a while – but that’s OK.
According to Lumo, creators of an activity tracker that coaches you to better posture,
Your best posture is your next posture.
Moving around is good, as long as you don’t stay in one position for too long. So make sure your chair is adjustable, have a footrest nearby for leaning back, and trying sitting at different desks throughout the day. As long as you shift a few times in an hour, you’re doing something good for your health.
Of course, it’s always good for your body to know some basic postures that aren’t doing you damage, and Lumo has some good posture and stretching tutorials designed for someone working at a desk. The main thing, though, is to keep moving.
If you’ve been sitting too long at your desk, motionless while reading this, don’t stress out – you’re not about to drop dead. But do take the advice to heart.
Writing, especially from home, can be an extremely sedentary occupation, and looking after your health should always be a top priority.
Try incorporating some of these tips into your daily routine and writing environment and you’ll see how quickly small changes can positively affect your health.