The Sedentaries

                     standing desk

Get On Up

Something’s been happening and I couldn’t figure out whether it was systemic or localized until now. I call it weight creep, as if putting a label on it makes it easier to deal with, even when I know that ’s not the case. Rather, by putting a label on it, I’ve made an enemy, and the enemy is known as “desk butt”.

First it was baby fat, as in “she still hasn’t lost her baby fat.” Of course, chubby legs at 10-years old can no longer be considered baby fat, but I played along. When I joined the swim team, exercising hard three hours a days, that “baby fat” dropped away, replaced by smooth, supple muscles. Then came college and since I was no longer on the swim team, the “Freshman 15” was my reward. Nothing spurs on a midnight chip and dip run like attending a frat party with lots of beer and no food. It’s a perfect storm of bad carbs, and if the beer doesn’t give you a hangover, the double dose of fat from the chips and dip will. But I knew how to exercise this time around, knew the merits of an elevated heart rate, so I started running and playing squash and by Sophomore year, I self-corrected.

Fast forward to my first desk job. I lived in Philadelphia so I walked to work. I was a paralegal in a law office and I sat practically all day, but I walked the office a lot, too — the file room, the break room, the bathroom, various offices of lawyers with whom I needed to speak. Plus I swam a mile before I got to work and usually rode my bike for an hour after work unless it was too cold. Nothing but exercise at every available opportunity which meant no weight creep in my twenties. Sweet right?

Fast forward to marriage. I moved to Central PA in my thirties, but still worked in Philadelphia, a two-hour commute. Now I’m training it into work every day rather than training at the gym and struggling to get a work out in. Those were the hard times, but after a year, my workplace started a flexiplace program that allowed me to work at home a day a week and suddenly exercise was back on the menu. Then the baby came and the baby weight, but since I was exercising and nursing, it came off again. Ah, the miracle of the human body.

Except for now. Thirteen years later, I am still exercising, eating plenty of salads and walking from the train to work (a shorter walk, but still a walk), and guess what? The magic is gone. The weight doesn’t leave with an extra bike ride or a missed meal. It stays and stays, socking itself in for a perpetual winter, as if in preparation for the apocalypse. Rations will be low…. Not everyone will survive….

I’m part of a growing epidemic of office workers who are simply “Sedentaries” (not a noun or even a word, but it should be!) which is what I’ve taken to calling people who sit all day long and who are experiencing the same weight creep or desk butt that I am. We humans spend more time sitting these days than we do sleeping. I typically sleep 6 to 8 hours a night. My work day starts at 6:45 a.m. with a 10-minute drive to the train followed by a 1.5-hour train ride. I walk 15 minutes from the train to work, and sit for up to 8 or 9 hours once I get there with a 30-minute walk at lunch if I’m lucky. Most of the time at work is spent in front of a computer, about 7 hours in the sitting column minus the walk at lunch and the walking around the office. When I get home, I sit in front of the computer working on the project de jure for a couple hours, maybe watching a little T.V., and voila! I’m sitting way more than I’m walking, standing and sleeping combined. While most days I get an hour of cardio at the gym, experts say it’s not enough to right the wrongs of sustained sitting.

Here’s why. You’re sitting, you’re sitting, you’re sitting, and your glutes (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) and hamstrings are being stretched like a rubber band while your hip flexors are shortened. Think of how a rubber band looses elasticity if it’s under a constant stretch and how inflexible your muscles become when you don’t stretch them. Your breathing becomes shallow, and overall, your muscles become weaker, softer, lesser. Health problems could include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, loss of flexibility, heart disease, etc. and as a result, you begin a slow, at first unnoticeable creep toward the next pants size while in a show of solidarity, the rest of your body takes on a jello-like appearance.

Do you want to avoid your muscles’ slow death march into uselessness? If your answer is “heck, yeah,” then moving around, rather than a trip to the gym is the key not only to a normal weight, but to a longer life, and obesity expert, Dr. James Levine has the research to prove it. Studies show that lean people move around more. They find and utilize walking opportunities; they stretch; they fidget. (Yes, fidgeting will keep your weight down!). So, like James Brown, you gotta Get On Up — from your chair, the couch, your desk, the car, whatever — and move around, get your heart rate going, and start the electrical conductivity that pulses through your body when you do. I’m not even advocating high-end exercise to beat this condition, although it certainly will help. Just to be clear, I am in no way advising you to ditch your gym membership. (I go almost every day.) I am simply iterating that the gym alone is not enough and advocating against sedentariness as a way of life.

Here are 10 ideas to get you moving that won’t require a radical life-style change:

1.  Make or build a standing desk or create some version of it. My father-in-law built me one. It’s fantastic. It has a little shelf to put paper and pens in, and another one below where I can stack my files. I put the desk in front of the window so I could look outside. Sometimes I do squats while I’m standing there. Or leg raises. Or yoga stretches. It’s awesome.

2.  Take the stairs whenever possible — at home, at work, at the mall. There’s a reason the Stair Master was so popular. So get climbing.

3.  Walk the floors every hour. Maybe practice the Ministry of the Silly Walk (you Monty Python fans know what I’m talking about). Use your phone or computer and set an alarm to get up regularly from your desk and do a loop around the office. Working from home? Even better. Loop the yard, go pick up the mail, take the dog out and circumnavigate the driveway.

4.  Get up and stretch. After too much time, your butt conforms to the shape of your chair, and no matter how high end or ergonomically correct, it’s still a chair and your butt should not look like it. Go to yoga after work or practice in your home before you leave for work.

5.  Get an ergonomically correct chair and adjust it to lean back slightly rather than forward. The forward hunch shortens all the muscles in your stomach and hip flexors while the backward lean works the abs, so work it baby!

6.  Start a salsa (or whatever) club and meet during lunch. Where I work in Philadelphia, there is a dance party every day at noon in LOVE Park. They have a little stage, and an area dedicated to dancing, and a microphone and speakers, a little canopy area where the DJ or band stands, the whole shebang. A whole crowd of people get out there and line dance. It’s awesome, dozens of people, shaking their booty at lunch.

7.  Chair dance. When I was a baby lawyer, I worked in an overcrowded, out-dated office with a view of Billy Penn at the top of City Hall in Philadelphia. Because we had more lawyers than offices, we had to double up, which means I had an office mate, and every afternoon, before the 3 o’clock slump set in, we stopped what we were doing, stood on our chairs and danced for a few minutes. Because the chairs had wheels, and rocked somewhat, it took a good deal of balance to stay up. Plus the bonus ab work we got from laughing so hard made it a win-win.

8.  Flap. Want to know what the profession is with the longest shelf-life? Music conductors. Yep. The guys who stand in front of an orchestra. There’s something about all that arm-flapping that’s good for your heart. So even if you don’t have a 20-piece band in front of you, start flapping.

9.  Drop and give me twenty. When was the last time you did 20 pushups? Not only is it good for your heart, abs and arm strength, you’re moving again.

10.  Take a walk after dinner. Probably my all-time fav, the after dinner walk is like a digestif. Not only does it aid digestion, it puts closure on the meal and the day, allows you an opportunity to take in the sights and smells of the natural world, and gives you some extra time to talk to your family or friends. So grab your spouse, your kid, a friend, the dog, whoever, and take a walk!

Pam Lazos  7.28.14

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