Sitting Pretty: How to Stay Fit Even If You Have a Desk Job

Numerous recent studies have shown that prolonged sitting is a serious health risk and that women fare worse than men in this regard. For example, researchers at Cornell University reported the startling finding that women with more than 11 hours of daily sedentary time faced a 12% increase in premature death compared with those who reported four hours or less of inactivity a day. In an article by the Cornell team published on January 7th 2014 in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the authors wrote that the sedentary women also upped their odds of dying due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and coronary heart disease by 13%, 21%, and 27% respectively.

Even more alarming, investigators at Northwestern University in Chicago discovered that being a dedicated exerciser doesn’t prevent women from falling prey to the dangers of spending too much of the day sitting. The results of that study were published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in October of 2012. A release from the university quotes first author Lynette L. Craft as saying, “Of course, exercise is very important and is associated with many positive health benefits, but negative health consequences are associated with prolonged sitting, and this study shows that just because you’re physically active doesn’t mean you’re sitting less.”

I paid particular attention to those statistics because as Co-Editor-in-Chief at ThirdAge.com, I was spending far too many hours seated at my desk. I do take vigorous ballet classes several times week, but that activity is apparently not enough to counteract the harmful effects of so much sitting. Consequently, I’ve made a concerted effort to sit less and move more. Here my five strategies for avoiding the hazards of staying seated for extended periods of time.

1. Sit on a Core-Engaging Stool or Chair My choice is the “Wobble Stool” by Uncaged Ergonomics, available on Amazon.com for $199.99. If that sounds pricey, remember that you’re investing in your good health. The stool, pictured with this article, has an adjustable height mechanism, a flexible “neck”, and a counterbalance system that sways and tilts with your every move. As you sit, you have to keep your abdominals and your back muscles engaged.

2. Sit on an Inflatable Exercise Ball This option also strengthens your core muscles. An added benefit is that you can use the ball for a series of exercises that are detailed in an accompanying booklet and/or DVD. Prices for the balls are under $20.

3. Install RSI Guard Software on Your Computer I bought this product almost a year ago when I was having pain in my arms from the repetitive stress of typing. I’m now pain-free but I continue to use the guard because it forces me to take breaks from sitting. Every 20 minutes, my keyboard and mouse are automatically disabled for three minutes. During the first two minutes, a video guides me through a series of stretches. For the final minute, I’m encouraged to walk around. If I’m in the middle of a crucial task, I can manually shut off the guard. Yet I very rarely do that. The breaks really are refreshing and I’m getting more work done, not less! The RSI guard costs $65 and is easy to install once you’ve downloaded it.

4. Write While Standing Up There are products designed to encourage this practice, including standing desks and even treadmill desks. However, I simply put my laptop on my three-drawer filing cabinet. My inspiration for this ploy is the fact that Ernest Hemingway almost always wrote standing up with his typewriter on top of a bookcase. Here’s an image of Hemingway standing up to write.

5. Take a Real Lunch Break and Eat Standing Up As a telecommuter, I used to eat at my desk while I kept pounding out articles and blogs. Now I factor in a half hour during which I go into the kitchen or out to the park and eat a healthy lunch while I’m standing up. The time away from my work has actually increased my productivity.

I hope you’ll join me in resolving to get up and move so that you, too, can avoid being a victim of the perils of sitting for protracted periods of time. Here’s to improving our chances of living long and well!

Sondra Forsyth is Co-Editor-in-Chief of ThirdAge.com. Her most recent book is “Candida Cleanse: The 21-Day Diet to Beat Yeast and Feel Your Best.”

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