On my 12 hour plane ride back from Ukraine, I read Dr. James A. Levine’s book “Get Up: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It.” (Yes, I see the irony) He is the Co-Director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Solutions Initiative and the inventor of the treadmill desk. He has published more than 100 scientific papers and worked on dozens of corporate programs to bring movement into work. He is also the reason why Apple created the health app that tracks your steps and has been waging war against our sedentary life styles. He was the first and most distinguished expert and evangelist for “you can walk and work!”
In the last month, I saw a recent study publicized in the media with a misleading title, “New Study Says Sitting A lot Won’t Kill You” and dismayed to see it shared on Facebook with commentary from people in my networks rejoicing that they could start sitting all day long at work. That’s a bad idea. First off, if you actually read the study, it is essentially giving the same message as Dr. Levine’s 25 years of obesity research — that being sedentary for too long during the day causes health problems. It’s the movement that counts. The challenge is integrate another 2.25 hours of activity into our work day. Levine says that their studies have found even integrating this in small (11 minute) segments throughout the day can be beneficial.
This brief YouTube video about Sitting Disease with Dr. Levine sharing some of the key ideas in his book is well worth watching, perhaps while you on your treadmill desk or pacing with your iPhone. Levine’s book is beautifully written and he is a great storyteller. Here’s a few ideas worth pondering (while walking of course).
There are health risks to a sedentary life style and it is important to try displace sitting with walking or movement throughout your work day. Levine says the human body was not designed for sitting, but over the past 200 years there has been a slow and insidious shift in our society. First we had the Industrial Revolution which spurred the building of factories. Offices appeared. Machines were built to stop people from moving. The office chair – the public health enemy came into office practice and culture. If you were not sitting at your desk all day long, you were not working. Walking around equaled “goofing off.”
But it was just not the work day, we commute sitting and after work we collapse on the couch and watch TV. And with the rise of computer and the Internet, we now have children who replace playing outside with going to the basement to play video games. Levine wants to change that and here’s why.
If you are sitting throughout the day, you are not burning calories. Obesity is the consequence and so is diabetes, high cholesterol, swollen ankles, and many other physical problems. He notes that the health burden of sitting also impacts the mind as well. He says that you feel the excess malaise if you walk into any office filled with chairs, or people sitting in conferences or training all-day long on their bottoms. He says, “All of want to do good things in the world. But when we sit too long, it makes us stale.” That’s why movement is the killer app for nonprofit learning!
His lab has studied the impact of incorporating movement into work, like walking meetings. How it changes relationships, sparks creativity, and improves productivity. It isn’t a new idea. Socrates came up with the concept of strolling and working or learning. It is a powerful way to interact. You get a great combination of creativity and work.
He suggests taking a break from sitting every 50 minutes – whether it is ten minutes to walk down the hall to accounting instead of emailing, not eating lunch at your desk, or do a walk and talk meeting. He also suggests that monitoring is critical. Set a goal to increase your activity by 20%. Once you start to integrate activity into your work, it is like flicking a switch on your metabolism. But, you need to be explicit about doing battle with the chair.
He said that if you can incorporate an extra two hours a day of movement into your day, there is a message of hope. When you look at impact of walking at work, the health numbers improve. But also productivity and well-being improves step by step along side of the health measures.
If the research isn’t enough for you to create a planned escape from the chair for your own physical and mental health, perhaps this will make it even more appealing. If you use a fitbit, you can sign up for FitforGood and transform your steps into cash for charities.
The idea of movement as part of work is a big theme in my new book, “The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit” that I am co-writing with Aliza Sherman. If you work for a nonprofit, and you or your organization has been able to wage ware against the culture of sitting, we want to include your story in the book. Let us know if you have some tips, examples, or stories and we’ll interview you for the book.