Sitting, bad! Standing, good!

By | August 15, 2013

I’m taking a short break before I wrap up my series on causality to share with you all a point of view that I encountered in a post couple of days ago that has sent cold shivers up my spine – namely, that “Sitting is the New Smoking- Even for Runners.” The lead goes on to say, “There’s no running away from it: The more you sit, the poorer your health and the earlier you may die, no matter how fit you are.” Now I’m really caught – I’m in trouble with my back if I try to move around, and I’m in trouble with my heart if I sit down.

Now I clearly understand that I am spending far too much time in my chair in front of my computer, to the detriment of my body generally. Whenever I do finally stand up, I become acutely aware of just how long I’ve been sitting down, pretty much without moving. No longer having an outside office to go to can easily result in my sitting in the one place for 5-6 hours straight. As a result, I find myself not infrequently with grotesquely swollen feet and a range of other back and neck problems. I desperately need something to break up my marathon sitting sessions.

Enter, of course, the search for the perfect technical solution to my problem – how to break things up and induce myself to stand up and move around some. Well, I’ve tried lots of things. One of the more appealing was a thing called Pomodoro – a piece of software designed to help you break up tasks into smaller units and handle them on a manageable basis. I gave it a shot, but simply wasn’t able to discipline myself to keep with it. Self-discipline is not my strong suit in any event. There also have been a number of other things that I’ve tried, but somehow I still keep sitting down.

I regularly preach, through my teaching as well as this blog and my comments on other people’s writings, the necessity of socio-technical solutions – that is, seeing beyond the idea of the perfect technical solution to a joint optimization of technical and behavioral adaptations. Yet in my personal quest I keep hunting for “Mr. Right Technology”, on the assumption that if I find the right tool I won’t have to make any of those messy behavioral changes that are so difficult to accomplish. Physician, heal thyself, indeed! I seem to be a much harder sell for my own ideas than are my students or colleagues. But this rather scary article has renewed my resolve to find some way to pry myself out of my chair at regular intervals.

I still think that I need some technological assistance; I don’t seem to be capable of simply standing up by myself. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s just that I keep forgetting. All the stuff that keeps running across my four monitors on a regular basis is really so much more interesting than what I find when I stand up and turn around that it’s easy to keep sitting. So I’ve got to find some help out there somewhere in addition to something to finally help me with my back problems.

I shall renew my attempts to convince myself that I am actually right, that there is a socio-technical solution to my problem of excessively sedentary fixation, and that applying such a solution is not beyond my administrative capacities. I decided that by making this into a blog post, I might sufficiently embarrassing myself in public about too much sitting I might finally be able to make a breakthrough. I will keep you posted on my reformation – and hopefully I’ll stay alive long enough to do so!

  • The answer is simple — you take a large glass of water (or other beverage) and put it near your desk (not where it can get tipped into the computer/keyboard!) Every couple of minutes you take a large drink of the beverage. When done, you rise from your seat and replenish. Your brain will appreciate this, as water is supposed to make it work better. In a short while you will find that your bladder will provide an incentive to again rise from your chair and move about. Re-fill and repeat. This technique is most effective if your computer is in a room quite distant from either the water source, the bathroom, or both.

    • DrEvel1

      However, the need to arise can be obviated by an ingenious use of catheterization. There’s always a technological fix and those ready to implement it, even if its long-term socio-technical consequences would be less than optimal.

  • Leslie Kefauver

    I was influenced by your writing to the degree that I stood up at my computer to finish reading your article. 😉

    • DrEvel1

      Now all I need to do is take myself equally seriously. I find myself still struggling with the concept of standing up, let alone actually moving around on some regular schedule. I can envision myself turning into some sort of Daruma figure! Gotta work on this!