Home » Writing Advice » Your desk chair is killing you

Your desk chair is killing you

Hey, you!  How long have you been sitting in that chair?  Bet you’ve been there for a few hours, haven’t you?  Don’t you realize that sitting for hours upon end is slowly killing you?  Don’t laugh at me.  You are totally being murdered by your chair.

As technology demands our almost constant attention, humans have turned into lazy lumps plopped in one spot staring endlessly at electronic screens.  The only movement comes from hands clacking away at keyboards or touchscreens.  And let’s not bring writing into the mix… ok, lets–this is a writing blog after all.  Writers are some of the worst culprits of sitting on their ‘tukas’, typing or scribbling away without a break.  You become so lost in your story that time ceases to exist.  Before you know it, 6 hours has flown by and you has not shifted  even an inch since sitting down at your desk chair.  It is terrifying what we writers do to our bodies for our craft.  I would like for this post to be a wake up call to all of the writers out there.  Sitting is killing your body!

As a kid, I despised sitting for long periods of time, especially in school.  Whenever I was forced to sit during class, my attention always wandered to the the nearest window.  I would get antsy and start shifting about in my chair.  A powerful yearn surged to be outside, running and playing.  If class would have been conducted where everyone could stand and learn by being in motion instead of sitting, I may have been a better student.  My body slowly became accustomed to sitting for an hour or two straight.  When I entered my mid-20’s, something awful happened.  I obtained a corporate job, which mandated sitting at a desk for almost 8 hours straight (aside from an hour lunch and two 15 min breaks).  I grew complacent with sitting at a desk in “cube land”.  It became the norm.  I converted to the dark side and accepted never leaving my desk.

Sitting is so incredibly prevalent that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it. And because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not OK. – Nilofer Merchant at “Got a Meeting? Take a Walk” TED 2013

10 years later, I am still working in the corporate world and on top of that I am a writer.  So after I finish working an 8+ hour desk job, I sit for another 4 hours to write / blog / view social media.  Oh, there is also a 3 hour commute to and from the office in which I drive.  That is at least 15 hours of sitting on my butt per day!!!  My total of non-active hours is staggering.

Recently there has been an increase in “sit studies” and how prolonged sitting is affecting our health.  Do you want to read a horrific article about the ill-effects of long term sitting?  Then check out Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?, written by James Vlahos and published in the New York Times magazine.

Sedentary lifestyles lead to a myriad of health issues: obesity, heart disease, blood clots, stroke, and even death.  Vlahos’ article describes a 14 year study, which was conducted by American Cancer Society epidemiologist Alpha Patel, that found out of 123,000 Americans, men who spent 6 hours or more per day sitting had an overall death rate 20% higher than those who sat for 3 hours or less.  For women, the death rate was an astounding 40% higher!

If you think that exercising once a day for about an hour is going to counterbalance the effects of sitting for long periods of time and prolong you last hour on Earth, you are dead wrong.  The only cure is to STAND UP, take many breaks, and get active for more than an hour a day!

After reading Vlahos’ article and various other studies, I cannot take sitting down anymore.  Unfortunately, deskbound is not something I can alter, however, I can help rectify my “sitting” situation.  One major change that can be done is to obtain a standing desk.  The downside to this is that most commercial standing desks cost several hundred dollars.  Though, author Andrew Knighton came up with a solution to that.  He created his own standing desk and blogged about it here.  He has a rather ingenious design that piqued my interest to see what other blueprints are out there. I jumped on one of my favorite websites, lifehacker.com, to see what designs they had for standing desks.  Lifehacker has several creative examples, like a treadmill desk.  If nothing on that site is to your fancy, then there are always those famous “Ikea hacks“, which can be more economical.  Some of these desks are absolutely gorgeous and trendy, though I really don’t need a third desk (yes, I have 2 already).  My option to turn my existing desks into standing desks via bed risers.  Here is an adjustable set that will raise a desk 5 to 8 inches.

Elevating your desk to a standing height is only one solution.  Another is to take breaks away from your chair.  This is something that I struggle to do.  A time keeper I am not!  Realistically you should step away from your desk every 20 minutes.  The break can be anything from stretching, taking a walk, or going for a quick run.  The point of the break is to get up and do some kind of activity get your heart pumping and your limbs moving.  Sitting for long periods of time not only has negative consequences on your health, but on your muscles as well.  Your glutes and hamstrings stretch out like a rubber band, while hip flexors tighten from being constricted all the time.  Let’s not even get into what it does to your back!  With your muscles all out of whack, your posture is going to be hunched and your mobility / flexibility will become limited.

Sitting for long periods of time — when you don’t stand up, don’t move at all — tends to cause changes physiologically within your muscles.  You stop breaking up fat in your bloodstream, you start getting accumulations of fat … in your liver, your heart and your brain. You get sleepy. You gain weight. You basically are much less healthy than if you’re moving. — Gretchen Reynolds, The First 20 Minutes

As I said, I am a horrible time keeper.  I started keeping a timer at my desk that would go off every 20 minutes, reminding me to get up and take a break.  That didn’t even last through the first notification.  I promptly turned the timer off and kept typing away, ignoring my body’s pleas to get up and move.  Some tough love was needed.  I now set my oven timer, which is on a different floor in my house.  That incessant beeping forces me to get up, go downstairs, and turn it off.  So far, this has been working.  Once I am away from the desk, I go about taking a break by letting the dogs out, getting my mail, or stepping outside to take in a deep breath of fresh air.

If you absolutely can’t walk away from your desk, then do something to wake up your muscles.  You don’t have to leave the vicinity of your desk to do this.  Stretching is a key component to keeping a body flexible and healthy.  Stand up, push back your chair, and go through a couple cycles of Sun Salutation.  If you absolutely can’t leave your chair, there are several stretches that can be done while sitting (though the goal is to really get out of that damned chair…).  If you are in an office setting and think you may become embarrassed–who cares!  Start busting out your moves in front of your co-workers.  Maybe you will inspire them to get their butts moving.  Should you need stretching examples, I started a Pintrest board of different exercises that help counter the effects of long term sitting.

The writer’s brain is the hub of creative processes.  It is nourished by the writer’s body.  If the writer’s body is not taken care of, how can one expect the writer’s brain to produce at an optimal level?  We need to start caring for our creative bodies just as much as we care for our creative brains.  It is time to get off our tushes and get moving.

Have you found a creative way to break the sitting cycle?  If so, please help out your fellow sedentary writer and comment below!
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21 thoughts on “Your desk chair is killing you

  1. Glad to hear that I helped inspire you to look at standing options. I’ve upped my standing desk game again this week, adding a little exercise machine that lets me walk (well, near enough for exercise) while standing at my desk. It’s still not the treadmill desk of my dreams, but the movement is helping keep my brain awake as well as exercising my body.

    • Thanks again, Andrew! How are you enjoying walking and typing at the same time? Is it hard to get used to? It is a fabulous way to keep active and glad to hear you are adding to your original design.

      • I’m still getting used to the typing and walking thing. I’m building the walking up slowly – partly so that I don’t knacker myself out like when I first used the standing desk, partly because it’s sometimes tricky. The device I’m using naturally leads to me bobbing up and down a little as I walk, and typing while doing that is taking some getting used to – using the mouse while doing it is no use at all. I’m getting there though – I’m even exercising as I type this. So far it’s a win.

        • I could see it being tricky. I am not the most coordinated person, and can envision myself getting lost in thought, stop walking, and wind up on the floor. Best of luck to you with it and keep me updated on how it goes! I may give it a try one day.

  2. I’ve been worrying about how much I sit down ever since I saw a research last year that prolonged sitting could cause colorectal cancer, excessive weight gain, etc. My days go just like yours. Sitting, sitting, sitting. Except when I am required on the site to inspect and give instructions to the engineers and contractors on site. My job involves a lot of engineering designs using software. I have to sit and work on my laptop/desktop. I have to sit in the jam forever. I have to sit in the house. I have to sit to write. (I am sitting now as I write this.) I am practically a sitting-down person. It is scary. Recently, I made a decision to be walking home every evening. The main road that takes me home is like one that goes to Hell. From 4PM, it is the most jammed road in the world, I think. I can take an hour or so to reach home on foot. But some days I leave work too tired. I guess my life is getting shorter and shorter each day.

    • I read something about prolonged sitting leading to colon and breast cancer too. It is really scary. An hour walk is a long walk, but after sitting all day I bet it sometimes feels good (when you are not tired). So is this the road that inspired Midnight Key? Make sure if someone asks you to take their key, take it and keep it safe!

      And yes, everyday our lives are getting shorter and shorter.

  3. I don’t really have the option to switch to a standing desk. I suppose I could make a fuss and do it, but… I do make sure that I get up and walk around a bit. A couple of us walk for coffee in the morning, occasionally, I walk at lunch and at least once an hour, I get up and move around the office. I arrive at work an hour early just so I can have a 20 minute drive instead of a 45 minute one. This is all good information and good advice, thanks.

      • I loved it. Your desk just needs to be low enough for a proportional fit with keyboard, monitor etc. What I really liked, in addition to the ball helping maintain good sitting posture, was I could take breaks to roll my back over it, hang my head for a good back and neck stretch. I still stretch on one.

  4. LOL – hahahaha

    I could never work on those standing desks or treadmill chairs, but I do get up a LOT, so moving around ain’t a problem 😉

    I am so glad you broached this topic are working towards a more ‘mobile’ lifestyle – #HUGS

    Kitto

  5. Congratulations, Amanda. You’ve both enlightened and depressed me, all at once.

    I’m one of those who exercises everyday, so I thought none of those health problems applied to me.

    Wrong. I do get up several times, during the day, but still not enough. I will ponder how to remedy this.

    Thanks you (I think). 🙂

  6. I take two walks each day for about a half hour each. It is as much for my mental state as it is for my physical state. But, these are suggestions we already know about, right? Here’s a novel one – drink lots of water. Yep, that’s right – drink 64 oz of water a day. Aside from cleansing your system and all that nutritionally good juju you get, there is an added benefit. I guarantee you will be getting up at least once every 20 minutes or so to visit the restroom 🙂 Sort of a good motivator to get up every 20-30 minutes throughout the day 😉 Maybe unconventional, but I guarantee it works!

  7. Thanks so much for this reminder. The standing or walking desk at work thing isn’t an option for lots of people, *but* at home you can put your pad of paper, typewriter, or laptop computer atop a medium-sized chest of drawers (as I did when I was young and had a basement apartment with no desk in it), and second-hand architect’s or drawing table, or even a low bookcase (as I am doing as I write this comment). I needed to look around a bit to find one at the right height so it didn’t kill my wrists, but the kind of stuff I’m talking about you can find in flea-market or cheap antique furniture places if you scour around a bit. The nice thing about standing while writing, which I had forgotten, is that when I get stuck or blocked, it helps to just walk around the room a bit. Love this post.

    p.s. That lovely Yiddish word for “rear end” is “tucus” for which the plural is, improbably, “tucuses.” I adore Yiddish words. As a writer, when I hear Yiddish I feel something of what a farmer must feel when she puts her hand into rich soil and rubs it between her fingers.

    • Very unique ideas for a standing desk. Refurbishing or reusing is the best way to go (and it is “Green” too!) I have an old baker’s rack that I am going to convert into my new standing desk as soon as I can find the free time.

      And “tucus” is one of my favorite words. I feel the same way about Yiddish words. Your description of what you feel when you hear Yiddish is lovely. To me, it feels ancient and mystical with deep ties to the Earth.

  8. Pingback: Heal your Hands | The Sarcastic Muse

  9. Pingback: The Proper Way to Sit | The Sarcastic Muse

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