We all know that sitting is not healthy. The logical solution is not to sit at all, ever. So get a standing desk and only stand at work. Be the weird guy at the Café standing when there are empty seats available. And of course be the creepy guy standing at the movies.
Even though logical, the solution to never sit down might not be the ultimate answer. One reason to suspect that only standing is not the answer is that standing workers suffer back pain and other health problems.
Maybe the problem isn’t about the fact that we are sitting. Maybe the problem is more about not moving for hours on end and spending 90% of time awake in one posture. Standing can be part of the solution since we rarely stand still at home after a long day standing at the office, but it’s not the end-all solution
Sitting = Deformation
Sitting and standing entail problems. Staying in one posture for long prolonged periods results in lengthening of some muscles and joints to the point of deformation while other muscles get tighter and tighter. Think of that being the case for up to 4 hours at a time for a few times a day and the effects start to accumulate. That applies for standing as well as sitting.
What can we do about it, apart from the general “you should stretch tight muscles”advice?
There is no best posture. We evolved to move
Dr. Joan Vernikos, the author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, is a former NASA researcher. She studied the effects of gravity or lack of gravity on the human body. She suggests that our bodies evolved to move against gravity and thus need that effort to stay healthy. Staying sitting or standing for hours at a time is detrimental to our health. Not moving means we don’t activate our muscles to fight against gravity and move fluids in our bodies.
Our tissues need blood since it is blood that delivers oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. Muscles act as pumps that force the intake and distribution of blood and nutrients throughout the body. Staying only in one posture results in slowing down of the fluid circulation. Slower circulation results in less burned calories and less energy for your body and your brain to use. Also, passive muscles mean fewer nutrients for muscles and joints. Better blood flow circulates more of the good stuff in and bad stuff out.
The solution? Vernikos suggests standing up every 10 minutes to eliminate the harmful effects of sedentary lifestyle. The mere act of standing up every 10 minutes is enough to counteract the adverse effects of sitting. Simple, but not always easy.
The problem for most is that getting up every 10 minutes can be unpractical. It might be seen as weird at a meeting or at your office to stand up for no reason, only to sit back down. Standing up every 10 minutes might not be practical advice if you are working on creative tasks. The interruption will probably disrupt the workflow. That is especially true if the task is something you have procrastinated on for a long time. The 10 minute is helpful as a standard to strive for when doing mechanical tasks or small separate projects like email.
Even if you can incorporate the routine of standing up every 10 minutes, it doesn’t mean you should get rid of weight training, walking, or other structured exercise habits. But if you can make that routine work, you don’t have to worry about the adverse effects of sitting, like organ damage, muscle degeneration, foggy brain, disc damage, soft bones and more.
Productive workflow with The Pomodoro
An effective approach to productive workflow can be adapted from the Pomodoro-method. The method, in a nutshell, is 25 minutes of focused work on a single task followed by a 5-minute break. After four cycles you should take a longer, 45 minute break.
The Pomodoro method is phenomenal for focusing, prioritizing and managing your energy throughout the day. Start by defining a project on which you want to make progress on. Define how many 25 minute blocks it would take to make measurable progress on the project. After that get into a peak state and into an environment that supports focused work. I often use the Brain Focus (for android) timer app and instrumental music from Spotify or YouTube. Once the 25 minutes is up, I get up, I take few deep breaths and do five burpees, jumping jacks, or jumping lunges. If I am at a café or other public place I will go to the bathroom to make my behavior seem less alarming. For the rest of the break, I try to relax my focus, walk around, talk with people, drink water. After four work cycles, or after I reach the outcome I set out for myself in advance, I take a longer break of 45 minutes. The longer break is used for eating, walking, socializing with others, relaxing the mind to recover for more focused work later.
The rest period acts as a trigger to remind you to move your body and relax your mind for more focused effort later. Moving your body will help with relaxing, as paradoxical as it might seem. Move and keep your body and your mind functioning in an optimal way, day in and day out.
The frequent breaks from sitting or standing in one spot for hours helps circulation and metabolism going. As a result, you will burn more fat, get more nutrients to muscles, joints, and your brain. Think better, get stronger, and leaner, with only a few minutes of effort during your average day. Not a bad deal. Focus and energy are also finite commodities; you have to take breaks, procrastinate, or get sidetracked by the trivial. By focusing on one thing and taking a break to relax the mind before you get tired, your brain can recover and work efficiently for longer periods of time. The mind is like a muscle; you might be able to force a marathon without training for it, but you won’t be able to do anything else for days. If you want to use your mind day in and day out, don’t train until failure. Focus and work to fatigue, but rest before you have to. That way you will get stronger and gain a bigger capacity for focusing every day.
Take breaks and move. Don’t just sit still for hours at a time. Once the results start coming in, it might be too late. Don’t surrender to becoming fat, sick, and stupid just because everyone else does.