Sitting is the new smoking – kick the habit and get moving!

Sitting is the new smokiing – kick the habit and get moving

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

This bold statement, in an interview given in July of this year by Dr James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic Obesity Solutions Initiative at Arizona State University, gained a lot of media coverage, and not without good reason. Much as society gradually came around to the idea that cigarettes were not actually ‘a good thing’, over the past few years we have come to realise the hidden dangers of the office chair and the sofa. However, it was Dr Levine who drew the comparison with smoking in an attempt to underline the seriousness of the situation.
Increased risk of heart disease, some cancers, obesity, type 2 diabetes, reduced muscle flexibility and depression have all been linked to a sedentary lifestyle, something which is all but impossible to avoid when you work as a proofreader or editor (or indeed, at any desk-based job).
One of the marked differences in my daily routine when I became a proofreader was the dramatic change in my activity levels. Working in a busy NHS hospital as a physiotherapist meant that I was on the go pretty much all day: standing, walking, running about and generally keeping on the move. Sitting down was a minority activity usually reserved for lunch and (sometimes) a tea break.
Overnight, I found myself spending hours and hours sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen, stuck in one position. The protesting of my joints and muscles when I eventually remembered to get up was quite a shock. For years I had advocated regular breaks to the many hundreds of office workers who had – quite literally – passed through my hands with musculoskeletal problems caused by poor posture and poor working practices. Now I faced the reality of how difficult taking regular breaks can be, and I had to start practising what I preached.

At the most basic level, and if you do nothing else, the simple answer is to move more. But, as Dr Levine says,

“On one hand, the good news is that this is incredibly easy. The bad news is this is incredibly difficult, especially for a computer-centric workforce.”

Dr Levine is the inventor of the treadmill desk. A recent study has shown that, as well as being beneficial for your long-term health, there is also evidence that using a treadmill desk makes you more productive. Before you tie yourself in knots trying to envisage editing text while jogging, be assured that you are only required to walk at 1–2 mph, and it apparently doesn’t take long to master the new motor skills required to walk while you work! Although an interesting concept, this might seem a rather drastic and not entirely practical piece of office equipment for your average editor, if there is such a thing.


So how about starting with baby steps? Try mini-breaks:
Set a timer for 20–30 minutes and stand up every time it goes off. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you can get out of your chair and assume a vertical position, even if you’re on the phone or at your screen. If you’re hammering away at the keyboard, give your arms and hands a break and stretch them while you’re at it. Standing up can also give you new perspective on your work: take the opportunity to look at the bigger picture or review your progress.

Working from home creates plenty of opportunities for regular mini-breaks – getting up to answer the door to the postman, putting on a washing or letting the cat or dog in or out are all valid ways of incorporating movement into your day.
In the office, answering the phone, sending a file to the printer or checking social media feeds can all be used as prompts to move.
Of course there are plenty of innovative ways to use technology to encourage breaks – have a look at these five apps which do just that. I’m intrigued by the premise, but I wonder  – how do you avoid the temptation to override the reminders? Do let me know in the comments if you’ve tried apps like these.
The key is to find something that resonates with you and your working style. You don’t want to be told to stand up and move by a bossy app if it’s going to evoke a sulky response reminiscent of your teenage years – Don’t tell ME what to do! (Or worse, if it’s a reminder of your own sulky teenager at home – you come to work to get away from him/her for a few hours!)
Be creative – my colleague, Ali Turnbull, listens to Classic FM while working and uses the ad breaks and news bulletins as a prompt to get up, stretch and drink some water.
My promise to you this week is that I’ll aim to practise what I preach, set a timer and get up out of my chair every 30 minutes. Why don’t you join me and let me know in the comments if you notice any difference?
It’s really a very simple message, move more, but somehow it can seem so hard to fit it into our busy schedules. Here’s Dr Levine again on the importance of not sitting.
I’ll look at more specific things you can do at your desk and in your mini-breaks in future posts but, for now, I’ll leave you with a question:
How do you incorporate regular mini-breaks into your working day? Let me know in the comments below – do you have the secret of a healthy (seated) working life?

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