When your brain and bum disagree
Many of us sit for a living. We’re pounding on keyboards, crunching numbers in Excel or weaving together sentences in Word. Our brains demand attention to projects. Our bums yell for a break. We push forward. Our bodies slowly melt into our chairs. Two. Three. Four hours. Click. Click.
First, let’s be blunt. The data shows that sitting is slowly killing us. This CNN article lists some startling statistics. “Physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth-leading risk factor for death for people all around the world, according to the World Health Organization. Prolonged sitting, meaning sitting for eight to 12 hours or more a day, increased your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 90%.”
This recent feature from England’s The Telegraph offers more unsettling news. “What is perhaps less obvious – and even more worrying – than the fact that inactivity is bad for us, is the recent Wisconsin discovery that the health risks from sitting down cannot be entirely counteracted by exercise, as you may imagine.”
Second, we need to finish our work—and desk time is often necessary—but we need to move for our health. What do we do?!
Like many of you, I worked in a corporate environment for years. I enjoyed the job, but full-time sitting was tough! Once I even developed a compression injury from sitting too much (sounds so silly!). My irritated nerves would ache and send shocks up my leg. The solution: a new chair, a makeshift standing desk, and more movement. But that’s general. Here are some specific ideas that you can implement to keep your brain and bum happy.
- Drink more water. Liquid is obviously necessary for health, but you can easily forget to drink enough. No one needs the nasty effects of dehydration, like a foggy mind, while at work. Water will keep your brain clear while the needed bathroom break will allow you and your bum to move. (If you’re like me, buy a cool water bottle or cup that you enjoy using. You’ll drink more, and it can be a fun conversation piece.)
- Add movement to bathroom breaks. This sounds weird, but use this break to move more. I’d do some slow squats, side leg lifts, or high knees before leaving the bathroom. Or, I’d find stairs and walk them for a few minutes after each break. You’re up; so move more.
- Return to elementary school. Ok, not literally, but check out this Wall Street Journal article that states, “Certain kinds of hand movements have an impact on cognitive functioning, improving focus or sparking fresh thinking or faster learning, according to several recent studies. Researchers at New York University’s Polytechnic School of Engineering are exploring how fiddling with desk gadgets might yield some of those benefits on the job.”
Awesome! Find a fun manipulative to place in front of you. Grab it regularly and take a break. And, maybe even stand or walk around your desk. Another benefits-of-acting-like-a-kid article from The Washington Posts talks about the positive effects of fidgeting. Read it. And, squirm … literally.
- Wear let’s-move clothes. My jobs have required me to wear suits and dress shoes, which can be awesome for looking professional, but they can really inhibit movement. If you’re in a more formal work environment, new clothing technology might help. Several manufacturers are offering lightweight, stretchy fabrics that hold their structure and look professional … even after a walk or travel. I had a pair of black slacks that always looked and felt amazing, and I found I was more likely to go for a walk during the day when I felt comfortable.
- Pack your gym bag. Give yourself no excuse to skip the gym. When working a traditional desk job, I would put my packed gym bag in the car. I then had the freedom to go work out during lunch or after work. Either way, the packed bag made it much easier to go to the gym when my willpower and energy waned at day’s end.
- Buy two monitors. Standing desks and swiveling monitors are awesome— and expensive. If your budget is tight and you have space, you might consider buying a second monitor for your computer. (Just double check that your computer can handle two and your boss is ok with the idea.) I used two monitors for years. One sat on my traditional desk. The other stood on a tall drafting table, which was next to my short desk. I would just stand, push my chair away, and move my keyboard and mouse. I didn’t mind moving, and it provided much-needed flexibility. Plus, the second monitor cost much less than a fancy standing desk or a stable, comfortable, tall chair. I also purchased a cushioned chef’s mat for my feet.
- Claim (and use!) your breaks. We’re all legally allowed breaks, but tasks often devour our whole day. Check out this informative article and videofrom The New York Times on the power of short breaks. I especially like the line from the doctor in the video who states, “The more you idle, the more you rot.” So vivid! But true. And while we might not be able to take breaks as often as this doctor suggests, our brains and bums benefit from any breaks we can squeeze in—and research shows we really need to move.
- Infuse some fun. Research also shows that regular breaks increase productivity and creativity. Business News Daily and Entrepreneur share more on why and how to take breaks (check out the articles).
These suggestions are great, but I’d encourage you to infuse fun into your breaks to increase the likelihood that you’ll actually stop.
- Enjoy a kinetic break. When I’m working at home all day, I like to do short YouTube exercise videos. Check out Blogilates or FitnessBlender.
- Pack a fun, delicious snack. Step away from your desk, and let your mind wander as you nosh. Blood sugar goes up. Brain clears. Muscles loosen. Awesome!
- Try the manipulatives, like mentioned in #3.
- Drink something that stimulates your taste buds—and stare out the window to give your eyes a break. I love a good tea or hot chocolate, like Treehouse Chocolate (based in Portland!).
Why stare out a window? You’ll help avoid “computer vision syndrome.” Yes, that’s a real thing. From Time’s article, “You Asked: Can Computers Really Ruin My Eyes?”: “Portello says eye drops or artificial tears can help, as long as you consult with your eye doctor first about which type will work best for you. She also recommends sticking to the 20-20-20 rule. ‘Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds,’ she advises. Why? This gives your eye muscles a rest and helps ward off fatigue and strain. Focusing on something even farther away is just as good, she adds. ‘And while you’re at it, try to blink as much as you can to keep your eyes moist.’”
- Be intentional. Be accountable. We could talk all day about what we should do, but really we just need to make a plan and claim our breaks. In the name of productivity, creativity, and wellness, make a plan that works for you. I’ve also found friendly accountability helps. Set your computer/phone alarm. Plan a walk with a coworker. Listen to your body and move before it’s begging for a break.
Alright … enough sitting … let’s go for a walk. Cheers!