The Weekly Challenge is a column that tackles self-improvement seven days at a time.
Hey you there. Yes you – the one flipping through the paper while lounging on your couch, or leaning back in your office chair. You may want to get up and walk around while you read this: Sitting is a seriously dangerous way to spend time. Mounting research links a sedentary lifestyle to everything from diabetes to cardiovascular failure to high cholesterol to cancer, and resulted in the front-page friendly proclamation that “sitting is the new smoking” – ie. the Grim Reaper of our generation.
Most of us clock a lot more keister hours than our grandparents ever did. Part of that is due to the increasingly brain-based economy, but mostly it’s thanks to the screens (TV, computers, iPads, and so on) that have eaten into our physically active hours like an army of electronic termites.
Today the average person sits for 9.3 hours a day. When you add the 7.7 hours we spend sleeping, that means we are in “active mode” for seven hours a day. (To be honest, that number strikes me as high.) In the warmer months, I’m all for leisurely strolls and bike rides, but in these dull-days of February, my get-up-and-go instinct is waning at best. The week before last I spent two days eating pasta with butter and salt because I couldn’t bring myself to walk to the grocery store in frigid weather. So yeah, my sit/standing ratio was due for an adjustment.
According to a study conducted last year out of Louisiana State University, the magic number is three – as in sitting for less than three hours a day may add two years to your life. This struck me as a preposterously ambitious goal given the eight or so daily computer hours my job requires. I suppose I could have dropped a few thousand dollars for one of those treadmill desk contraptions that will populate the workplaces of the future, but the whole point of these weekly challenges is bite-sized, attainable improvements, so instead I opted to test drive some of the less radical sloth-busting strategies.
Taking a stand against sitting
Adjustment No. 1 was to spend the first hour of every morning standing at my computer, thereby breaking the automatic sit cycle and adding an additional 200 hours (or 10 whole days!) to my annual standing tally. Initially what felt like a magnetic pull between my posterior and the empty stool made it difficult to focus. Also my legs felt tired and I frequently caught myself leaning against the counter for support, but I guess if standing up all the time was supposed to be easy, no one would have created the Lazy-Boy.
For the rest of the workday, I devoted the last five minutes of every hour to quickie active sessions – low impact jumping jacks or basic yoga. Nothing too strenuous or sweat-inducing, just enough activity to jolt my body out of its sedentary coma. After an hour of sitting, the body’s production of fat-burning enzymes decreases by as much as 90 per cent, meaning tiny bursts of activity can yield big results. Also five minutes six times a day was another five days of off-the-butt time added to the annual tally.
Walk this way
Nilofer Merchant is an American businesswoman – a Fortune 500 type who wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review about how her commitment to “walking meetings” has allowed her to be active on the job without cutting into productivity. Four times a week she spends an hour walking and talking (or hiking and talking) with whomever she is supposed to meet with. Her technique sounded fun, simple and a lot more creatively stimulating than ye olde coffee shop, so I decided to try it out. One brave editor agreed to discuss an upcoming assignment with me while walking around in the drizzle (as discussed, all of this getting off your duff business would be a lot easier if it were June). Another time I caught up with an old friend on an hour-long stroll through the snow. Okay, so fine, we were strolling to a pub where I sunk helplessly into a bar stool, but based on my experience the key is to take small stances against sitting wherever you can. Pun intended.
The next challenge
Confront or at least explore your deepest fear. Try to figure out where you phobia comes from and what it might take to overcome it. Let us know how it goes at fb.me/globelifestream.
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