06 May 2011

Getting off the death chair

My stand-up desk
As bipedal apes, our bodies are meant for walking and running, which may have even been a catalyst for eventually bringing about the means of evolving larger brains.

Physical activity is strongly linked to brain performance. The exercise boosts blood flow in the brain and improves our memory and cognitive function. Exercise acts like a trigger for the brain saying, "It's time to be alert, find food, survive." Exercise may even fuel brain power by increasing neurogenesis and also guard against the harmful effects of stress.

Yet now we sit, and sit, and sit. Until the sitting kills us.

This article in the New York Times magazine gives a pretty good description of just what really happens when you sit in that death chair with quotes from Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center:
This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides — for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it — plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.
Isn't that enough to scare the "sit" out of you? If not, this infographic will do the trick.

I've decided to stand up. So, as seen in the photo above, I took a bunch of my thickest textbooks and used them as supports to raise my monitors to eye level when standing. 

With luck -- probably because the Human Resources department was mortified by how ugly desk my desk was -- I later got mechanical arms that can move the monitors up and down as I like. It's much better than the books. And I think pretty much everyone should now have a desk like mine.

Because since the time that I started using my new stand-up desk, my neck and back pain has gone away almost entirely. 

Eventually, I expect, I'll be persuaded to try a treadmill desk.

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