Sunday, September 21, 2014

September 21 2014. Is writing sitting oneself to death? I’d like to think there is considerably more to writing than that. Still, the data on sitting are sobering. Perhaps a better word would be frightening. In truth, I tend to believe that too much sitting is killing us. What to do about it is the question. It is not a threat that can be ignored. Or is it all Sitting Bull?


I haven’t been as conscientious about my health as I should have been for most of my life—a fact I deeply regret. I have tended to associate exercise with compulsory sports at school (which I hated—because they cut into my reading time!) in defiance of my intellect which has long known the value of exercise. Actually, I did like athletics and cross country running. Who knew a javelin would be so hard to throw. It looks so easy in the movies. There is something weirdly satisfying about pushing yourself to the limit.

I have been gifted with considerable intelligence, but am far from sure it has been matched with adequate common sense—specially when it comes to practical matters. Once, when I was on a photographic assignment in France—I was covering a rather spectacular coastal fire—I was so focused on framing my next shot, I stepped over the edge of a cliff—and wouldn’t be here today except that a firefighter yanked me to safety. My only excuse is that it was night and I was looking at the flames—not where I was going.

Come dawn, the fire now under control, I returned to Monte Carlo in the fire-truck—all sweat, wine, salami sandwiches, garlic, the smell of smoke, and Monegasque firefighter camaraderie. It was one of the great experiences of my life—and the strange thing about near-death experiences is how alive you feel afterwards.

Monaco isn’t actually French as I’m sure you know—though the fire was actually in France. If you know your geography, you will correctly deduce that this was on the French Riviera.

I still have a tendency to look at the flames.

Still, I have always been a walker—an activity which has served me well—and, more recently, I have become very diet conscious. In fact, these days, I don’t eat during the day at all—and don’t seem to need to (I’m sure I would if I was doing something physically demanding). One benefit—of several—is that I don’t get lethargic after lunch. No lunch. No lethargy.  Much easier to write. In fact, writing demands such intensity of focus that I rarely feel hungry until the evening. Then I suddenly realize I’m starving.

Still, if hunger is not of serious concern during my creative day, the consequences of sitting certainly are.  I have conditioned myself to stand and move around several times every hour—and I walk every day—but I still don’t think it’s enough.

Since most of us sit too much, I thought I would pass on this excellent post on the matter. Catherine Cellier-Smart has done us all quite a service in assembling the links in particular.

We writers, who work alone, are entirely responsible for our own routines—but I have to wonder what responsibility employers have in all this--where office workers are concerned. In effect, the working conditions they impose are seriously damaging to health.

Congressional action? Ironically, they are the one group which doesn’t sit enough.


Posted by Catharine Cellier-Smart (Smart Translate) in health September 20, 2014

Are we ‘active couch potatoes’? Is it only me, or has there recently been much talk of the negative impact of too much sitting? Take a look at just a few of these recent articles:

Inactivity ‘killing as many as smoking’ - BBC News, 18th July 2012

Sitting is the New Smoking – Even for Runners – Runners World, July 20th 2013

‘Get Up!’ or lose hours of your life every day, scientist says – LA Times, 31st July 2014

I don’t automatically believe or react to every health scare I hear about, and I’m sure if we look hard enough there’s plenty of articles that will tell us sitting is fine. Also,initially I didn’t feel concerned by these headlines as I do an hour of sport every day, and a few years ago when I had a salaried, sedentary office job was the period of my life when I was the leanest and fittest. But as an employee I was actually regularly getting up from my desk to see colleagues or management, to deal with clients, or to go to see the factory production line. Even the toilet was several minutes walk away! Now I no longer interact with flesh-and-blood colleagues, I have no boss apart from myself, and I barely see one physical client a day. I regularly go to the gym at midday, which gives me a physical break halfway through the working day, but even then I can still find myself sitting at my desk from 2 to 7pm, and five or more hours of sedentary sitting, according to Dr. David Agus, a professor of medicine, is the health equivalent of smoking a pack and a quarter of cigarettes.* And a study of marathoners found that participants trained an average of 40 miles per week, but also sat idle for nearly 12 hours per day.*


So what can we do about it? Back in 2008 fellow translator Corinne McKay was already blogging about treadmill desks; I also have a friend who posts his Jawbone Up results on Twitter daily (Jawbone Up is an activity tracker that provides feedback on your sleep, exercise and steps). But treadmill desks need quite a lot space, and while apps like Jawbone can give you feedback, as far as I know they don’t provokeactivity. Some people rave about stand-up desks, and while apparently they create more space to hang photos of good-looking members of the opposite sex, other desk workers remain to be convinced, saying standing is not necessarily better than sitting if you do it for a prolonged period of time. There are intermediate solutions, like the Kangaroo Pro or Varidesk adjustable standing desks, but in the end it all boils down to getting more activity and this doesn’t necessarily have to be intense, high-level activity either – some of the longest-living people on earth owe their longevity to having to walk up and down flights of stairs or getting up from a sitting position on the floor**. The debate rages as to how often we need to move, but for example this study suggests that interrupting sitting time with short bouts of walking every twenty minutes may be an important strategy for reducing cardiovascular risk.


So on my computer I recently dusted off my Time Out app, which I’ve set to grey out my screen every 20 minutes in order to remind me to get out of my seat and walk about unless I hit the ‘skip break’ or ‘postpone’ buttons. Time Out is a free app for Mac; solutions for PC-users apparently include Work Pace or BreakPal. What about you? Please let me know what solutions you’ve adopted (if any) in the comments below.

P.S. While we’re on the subject take a look at these computer monitor test pages that allow you to test and adjust your monitor settings to get the best possible picture quality and thus avoid eye strain.

Further reading:

* see A user’s guide to standing while you work

** see Why I Killed My Standing Desk, and What I Do Instead – Lifehacker

Why I’m a Convert to Standing at Work

Stand up at office to lose weight, says exercise scientist; A sitting person’s guide to standing up and Treadmill desks: How practical are they? – BBC News

The Stand Up Desk – Lifehacker

I Tried Out A Standing Desk For All Of The Benefits — Here’s Why I Quit – Business Insider

Standing up at your desk may energize you, but it also may be tough on your legs – Washington Post

A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17 – The Atlantic

3 Minute Mini Walk (video)


Acknowledgements to friend and freelance home-working editor Karen White ofWhite Ink Limited for the cartoon above, and whose recent Facebook post inspired me to finally get round to writing this blog post that I’d been mulling over for a while.

Share this:

No comments:

Post a Comment