Durable Human (2 book series)

Puttering as Good for You as Jogging

messy counter top indicative of putterer

If you exercise before work and think that punches your health card for the day, better think again. Sure, a brisk walk or a spin on the elliptical certainly revs up your metabolism, but if you sit down for everything after that, you could negate the good you did for your body.

CEO Day Martin at StandSteady desk

CEO Day Martin at her StandSteady desk

I learned that from Day Martin, CEO and founder of StandSteady.com.  Day was a full-time data analyst a few years ago when she hurt her back in a car accident. Her condition gradually improved to the point that the only place her back hurt was when she was at work. “The Internet recommended I try a standing desk, but when I went to buy one, I was shocked at the price: $700 to $4,000!”

So, out of necessity, she designed an inexpensive, lightweight, little desk that sits on top of a regular desk.

I’ll say much more about Day in my next post, but suffice it to say now that she clued me into a little secret about standing while you work: it may help you live longer. The reason? Sitting a lot is really bad for your body, especially your heart, bones and aforementioned metabolism.

“The robotic lifestyle of just incorporating 30 minutes of physical activity into your day, and spending the other 23.5 hours idle, does not produce the healthy profile we’re looking for,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of healthy active living and obesity research at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.

As a daily dog walker, my first response to that statement was: Who you calling a robot, Dr. Parlay? But then, I took a reluctant peek at reality.

What do I usually do after my dose of exercise in the morning? Sit down and have breakfast (even if it’s just grabbing something), sit down and write at my computer, sit behind the wheel and drive to a meeting (hey – sometimes it’s snowy or dark and I can’t bike), sit through the meeting then come home and sit down for dinner. At night, I sit and chat, write or watch something.

Too many of us fit right into Dr. T’s chart:

Sitting Schedule from research by Mark Tremblay

“Dr. Tremblay has done extensive research to show us that our mostly sedentary lifestyles are extremely harmful to our overall health, despite any attempt we might expel trying to “hit the gym” a few times a week,” concurs Dr. Jonathan Kerr, President of the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

Apparently, there are two types of people. The “Prolonger” is someone who persistently sits for long periods of time. The “Breaker” is someone who stands up, “if only to move about briefly during seated activities.” You’ll see in this other Tremblay chart that Breakers clearly move more:

Prolonger vs Breaker chart by Mark Tremblay

The good news, then, is that if you can putter or find little reasons to get up from your chair during the day, you’ll be more durable in the long run because – like a tortoise not a hare – you’ll be slowly but surely more active.

That said, as Day Martin wisely points out, moving more is tough for lots of people because “their job is to sit there.”

Yet, even if you work in a cubicle, there are ways to be more active. Dr. Kerr gave these suggestions to Canada’s Belleville Intelligencer:

  • Stand whenever you talk on the phone
  • Instead of emailing a co-worker, walk down the hall and talk to him or her in person
  • Alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day (Start by standing for 5 minutes of every hour and gradually increase.)
  • Walk or Bike to and from work, errands, school, or public transit (the last three are my suggestions)
  • Take a short walk outside during your lunch break (also good for the soul)
  • Consider a “standing desk” at your workstation (So “the Internet” was right!)
  • Hold “walking meetings” with colleagues
  • Avoid sedentary activities after work
  • Cook more, and order less take-out
  • Only watch TV when you are exercising (walking on the treadmill, doing yoga, stretching, etc)

So, these days, I don’t feel so angelic if the only thing I do on my feet is take the dog for a spin. That’s why I wrote this entire post on my laptop standing up at the counter (which wasn’t so bad because they didn’t say you can’t lean.)

For more on Day Martin’s and other durable human designs — and great tips for how to live in harmony with your technology — read How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design

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Outdoor Person

One of these neat desks would have been impossible in a windowless 4′ x 6′ cubicle The computer was squished under the shelves that ran the length of the cubicle. The chair couldn’t even back up. Survival mode included getting up every 15 minutes, taking a long walk at lunch regardless of the weather, and, taking another walk in a park at the end of the day. Now with a roomier office, this “add on” desk looks like a good solution to the inevitable hours spent in front of a computer. Thanks!


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