Times have certainly changed. Smokers were “cool” in the early days of movies, and they were even hailed by doctors in media ads.
Smoking became so popular that anyone who didn’t light up at work was considered “anti-social”.
Today, the few remaining smokers are kicked out of the building.
So smoking is in decline. It seems the old generation of smokers have killed themselves off faster than new recruits can be found
But just as we have turned back one self-inflicted threat to public health, we see another take its place. SITTING is now the new smoking.
In my practice of urban millenials, almost all earn their living by sitting all day long. Those that commute will sit even more in their cars or trains. Then, by the time they have eaten, they are too mentally exhausted to do much other than sit in front of their screens. (That explains part of our fascination with professional sports: it is a lot easier to sit and watch somebody else exercise than it is to do it ourselves!).
Our bodies were carefully evolved for movement, but the new workplace denies all but a few finger strokes on a keyboard or screen. As a consequence, we are seeing a host of self-inflicted medical complications, from obesity to neck and back pains, and from insomnia to attention deficit disorders.
Our ancestors never had to think about exercise; they got plenty working the land, rowing the fishing boats, chopping the firewood, walking miles every day. But today, we need a strategy for movement. This needs some time management, and some creativity to pull it off.
One can join a fitness club, buy a bike, or take up a sport like tennis, soccer or ultimate frisbee. For those who find these options impractical, be creative. Remember that exercise doesn’t need to be formalized as a solid hour, it could also come in random short bursts. Any kind of movement is better than finding a new place to sit as your day goes along. Here are a few examples my patients have found useful:
- Add a few extra minutes to your commuting schedule to allow for some movement. Get off at the wrong stop on your bus, train, or subway, and walk the rest of the way. Park your car a long walk from where you work, and walk or jog the rest of the way in. If you are in a huge parking lot, try to find a spot in the most remote corner.
- If you work or live in a tall building, get off at the wrong floor, and take a few flights of stairs up and down. If you see an escalator, make a point of not taking it, but try the adjacent stairs instead.
- When you get a break for lunch, take it in a different building, so you need to incorporate some walking. If you want to catch up on lunch conversation with friends, invite them to walk and talk once the food is eaten.
If you absolutely have to sit, consider sitting on a Pilates ball, instead of a chair.
With a chair, you can stay at your place without moving a single muscle. Indeed, you could even fall asleep at your desk. Can’t do that on a Pilates ball, or you’ll roll right out of the cubicle. Like riding a horse, sitting on a ball requires great core strength, good posture, and the constant adjustment of muscles from your toes to your neck. If the actual ball looks too silly to use at your work, consider rigging your work station for standing.
If all else fails, use the front few inches of your chair seat as a “pseudo-ball”, keeping well away from the back rest and arm supports.
So if you have joined the ranks of the sedentary, don’t despair. Sitters don’t need to be Quitters!