Did you know the average person spends more time per day sitting than they do sleeping? That a slew of recent studies show a strong correlation between sitting and weight gain, sitting and overall mortality, sitting and heart disease, and sitting and loss of bone density?
As a writer, my work keeps me sitting in front a computer for hours a day. I sit while I research and write blog posts. I sit while I write books. I sit while I teach online courses and provide customer support. I sit while I promote my work on Facebook. And then, when I’m all done working for the day, I sit while I watch TV and movies, sit while I surf the net, and sit while I read books.
Sitting is unhealthy.
As a health and nutrition writer, I catch wind of the latest news reports and blog posts about the dangers of sitting too much. If I could summarize their findings in one sentence, it would be this:
Sitting too much will kill you.
There, I said it.
Despite my sedentary work and leisure, I still thought of myself as mildly active. After all, I home school three young kids. I take them to play dates at the park. We go on walks to the library or park or river.
Eventually, though, I found myself wanting … more. More activity. More play. More exercise. I thought I’d be deliberate and joined my town’s Rec Center. A gym. Weights. Salt water pools. An indoor track. Surely I’d pop into a class or two a week and use their weights, right? NO EXCUSES!
Except there were excuses.
The truth is, setting aside time for exercise requires that you do just that — MAKE time. And I’m quite busy. If I’m going to MAKE time to do anything, it’s going to be to go on a date with my husband or to get engrossed in my latest book.
The eye-opening gadget that changed my life.
I decided I wanted to know just how sedentary my life really was. So, I bought a FitBit One.
It’s a sleep and activity tracker.
It counts how many steps you’ve taken in a day, how many floors you’ve climbed, how much sleep you’ve had. It also charts it all with a free online app that you can download to your smartphone. Not only do you see your progress, but you can “friend” people on the app and keep each other accountable.
It even acts as a cheerleader, periodically sending you messages to tell you to kick it up a notch or congratulating you on reaching your goals.
So, I put it on, then wore it for a few days to see just how sedentary my “mildly active” life is.
The standard, out-of-the-box goal with the FitBit is to log 10,000 steps a day. My typical day? About 2,000 steps.
Then I decided I’d go for a real walk. I walked down to the river and along the river trails. I pushed myself farther than I’ve ever gone. I stayed out twice as long as my typical walk-for-exercise-walk. I got blisters on my feet and collapsed in a heap when I got home.
How many steps was that walk of monumental proportions? 8,500 steps.
I don’t have time to go for hour-long walks every day. How would I *ever* get to the base-level goal of 10,000 steps?
The Movement Solution for Desk Jockeys Like Me
About six months ago one of my friends read this article by Chris Kresser and got very excited.
I’m going to save up for this!
It was a treadmill desk.
I scoffed at the idea. For one, I hate treadmills. If I’m going to walk, I want to go places. Next, I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly type and walk at the same time!
So while she bought a treadmill desk and started using it, I started fantasizing about a standing desk.
Then another friend bought a treadmill desk, and another one. Before I knew it, four of my friends had bought treadmill desks.
Call it peer pressure.
The truth is, their experience with a treadmill desk convinced me. My objections? Crumbled.
My normal walking speed when I’m out for exercise? About 4 miles per hour. My normal walking speed when I’m out for a leisurely stroll? About 2.5 miles per hour.
The normal walking speed of my friends working on a treadmill desk? About 1.5 miles per hour.
According to them, you’re walking so slowly that it hardly feels like walking. It’s very easy to type or read when you’re going that slowly.
Plus, if you’re working at your desk, you’d already be staying in one place anyway. So, my typical objection to treadmill’s not going anywhere falls flat. I’m working at my desk! I’m already not going anywhere. At least this way, there’s some base-level movement going on.
Don’t call it exercise.
From what I’ve gathered, working at a treadmill desk doesn’t even feel like exercise. And really, it hardly counts. It’s not like lifting weights or tabata squats or any sort of natural movement play.
The only goal is to stop being sedentary despite my desk job. A standing desk can do that, but according to most, a treadmill desk is more natural. It’s hard to stand in one place and work! It’s easy to move slowly.
My friends casually log their 10,000 steps within two to three hours of working at their treadmill desk.
And even better? They all report increased energy levels, a desire to make time for more energetic exercise, and significant weight loss.
Taking the plunge.
So, I did it. I bought the LifeSpan TR1200-DT Treadmill Desk.
I picked this one because it came highly recommended by two of my friends, Ann Marie of Cheeseslave and Vanessa of Healthy Living How-To.
I bought this desk for a few reasons.
1) I wanted something super-sturdy. I’ll be using my desktop computer at the treadmill desk, rather than a laptop. So, I wanted something that was solidly built and would last.
2) I wanted a desk with an adjustable height. It’s all about ergonomics, baby! If the desk is too high or too low, it’ll kill my wrists. I’d rather not get carpal tunnel syndrome, thank you very much.
3) I wanted a treadmill that could go at a slow pace for hours. Many treadmills are designed for short bursts of running or walking quickly. If you use them for hours on end, you’ll prematurely burn out the motor. This LifeSpan treadmill can go up to 6 hours a day without damaging the motor.
4) I wanted a treadmill that wouldn’t break on me and came with a warranty. One of my friends built her own treadmill desk after buying a relatively inexpensive used treadmill on Craigslist. It broke within a month!
My treadmill desk will arrive tomorrow. I promise that I’ll write a review of it after I’ve used it for a couple of months!
(click here to read reviews of the LifeSpan Treadmill Desk)
(top photo: Victor1558; sitting infographic: http://www.medicalbillingandcoding.org/)
RE: FitBit. Is this device safe? What about the magnetic fields and the radiation from wireless technology?
I think it’s no more dangerous than any other wireless device.
I’m sitting about two feet away from my wireless router and using a bluetooth mouse right now. If these are truly dangerous, then I’m pretty much screwed already! So, I figure if that’s the case, then I might as well have a wireless device that’s actually raising my awareness of my fitness level. 😉
That said, I’ve heard of some who are EMF-sensitive using the FitBit by one of those EMF shields on it. You know, the kind you use for cell phones & tablets. There are a couple brands that claim to block 100% of the EMF radiation. Seems like it could work!
Michelle @ Find Your Balance says
Oh my, I’ve been having this exact same conversation with myself. Too much sitting!! And I’ve been looking into that same treadmill desk! I’ve got to do something because my work, like yours, is always done from a chair.
Tanya M. says
This article from Aligned and Well makes me skeptical of a treadmill desk. http://www.alignedandwell.com/katysays/junk-food-walking/
I read that article when it was posted, but am not concerned.
The problem is that she’s comparing treadmill walking to walking outside, when for my purposes she needs to be comparing treadmill walking to sitting at a desk.
That’s because I’m *going* to spend hours a day in front of my computer. It’s a given. The question is, how can I do THAT in as healthy a way possible?
So, saying a treadmill is indoors and natural walking is outdoors doesn’t apply. I’m not going to be outdoors. I’m going to be in my office. Would I rather be slowly walking on a treadmill during that time, or sitting?
Likewise, saying a treadmill keeps my head still or gives me “computer/driving arms” isn’t a negative. I’m at my computer. My head will be still and my arms in this position anyway.
So, the only conceivable harm in walking on the treadmill slowly while at my computer is the *possibility* of hypertonicity in the pelvic floor. Given that after having three children I can’t run without peeing myself, that’d actually be a plus!
See what I mean? Yes, walking outdoors is obviously more natural movement and better for you all around than walking on a treadmill. But I don’t have the choice to walk outside while working at my desktop. So, in my case, walking at a treadmill desk is the BEST possible way to spend 6 hours a day at a computer.
That all makes sense except that if you are peeing yourself, then you already have a hypertonic pelvic floor that you might not want to make worse. There’s more about that on Katy’s blog.
Hmmm. I’ve read through all her stuff on pelvic floor weakness vs. hypertonic and I’m pretty sure based on some of the assessments that she prescribes that I just have a weak pelvic floor. I attribute it to three pregnancies and sitting on my butt all day. I’m pretty sure that ANY base level movement will help, even if it’s on a treadmill. (Plus, squats are my friend! Tabata squats are my favorite go-to “short” workout.)
That’s what most people think…that their pelvic floor is weak, but if you are having pelvic floor problems, you actually probably have too tight of a pelvic floor. This was a crazy idea to me too, but then it all began to make sense when I took a class by Katy. Here’s another post about it: http://mamasweat.blogspot.com/2010/05/pelvic-floor-party-kegels-are-not.html
Anyways…I still agree that you have to pick your poisons. If you are choosing between sitting on your bum all day versus walking on a treadmill, then it might be worth it. (But it’s likely not going to help your pelvic floor.)
Hm. See, the deal is Kegels actually *help* me. When I remember to do them, any incontinence issues (the ones I get from sprinting & jumping on trampolines) disappear. Then when I don’t do them for months on end, the incontinence returns.
So, it’s still definitely PFD, but I think it really is pelvic floor weakness and not hypertonic.(Plus, you can watch your pelvic muscles contract in a mirror and see weather the weakness is lengthwise or cross-wise.) Either way, the way to correct it is with squats and sitting in chairs less.
Thanks for the informative links. I hadn’t seen that one interview.
I do think we’ve gotten a bit off topic here, so I’m going to ask we end the pelvic floor discussion here. I’ve got to hold myself to the same standards I do the rest of my readers when it comes to my Comment Policy.
Amy Jarosky says
Great post! I recently left my sedentary job as I could feel it’s negative effects on my body. We’re meant to move our bodies!!
Anastasia @ eco-babyz says
Very interesting, I don’t have this problem right now because I have an 18 month old and a 4.5 year old! They keep me moving all day long and I’m struggling to gain weight. Two flights of stairs in my house don’t help either. So even though I’m at my desk sitting down and working for 5 hours every night, I still get a lot of movement 🙂 This may change though as the kids get older – so I’ll file this in my head for later! lol
Fantastic post. I sit too much, but I work in an office, so it can be hard to get around it. I also have no problems sitting for long periods of time in front of a computer, so I don’t always think about moving as much as I should.
I have a 18 month old at home now though, so like Anatasia, I get to keep moving around a lot when I’m at home :). I try to stay somewhat active on weekends too, and TV isn’t a big problem in our household thankfully, we rarely watch more than 1-1.5 hours a day, unless we sit down for a movie.
All I have to say is, I thought I was mildly active, too. I’ve got three kids under the age of 8 and I’m with them ALL DAY LONG.
Yet, when I used the FitBit, my average day only logged around 2,000 steps. On days that were very heavy with errands, it could go up to 3,000. But still!
The 10,000 steps on the FitBit is meant to be a MINIMUM. It’s meant to be the definition of “mildly active” and anything less is too sedentary.
Translation? Even chasing after kids and running errands isn’t enough to constitute a mildly active lifesyle when you’ve got a desk job that requires you spend hours a day in front of a computer. The two are antithetical to each other.
I SO resonate with the writing/sitting, researching/sitting, teaching online/sitting, unwind at night/sitting…I have to do something…starting today.
Not sure that I will invest in the treadmill but any interest in an accountability group? I actually need a break from my cyber work…not just the movement.
Thank you for a great blog…love the transparency!
all you have to do is move your computer. put it on a shelf so you can stand up and work. you could stand on a balance board or get carpet skates and slide your feet by opening and closing your legs. or get shape-up/toning shoes and stand in them.
or move your computer onto a footstool or even your chair, and squat down in front of it while you are working. it’s important to keep all of your supplies up on your desk so that when you need something, you have to stand up and take a couple of steps to get it from the top of your desk, or duck walk over to your desk to get something out of a drawer. that would be most like how people used to cook and clean.
also, squatting to use the toilet. you’re going to spend that time going to the bathroom anyway. might as well use it to benefit your body rather than possibly harm it.
mostly, as katy says in the link above from another commenter, it’s about getting back to effort. we have become more focused on convenience than health and it’s taking it’s toll. to update a saying, whatever is worth doing is worth the effort of doing it.
and, along with the focus on traditional ways of cooking and eating, we need to get back to traditional ways of movement and posture. for that, katy’s blog looks like a good resource. or just watch the way some people from traditional cultures still move, and try to copy it.
Barbara in Robbinsdale says
Even if you don’t get a treadmill desk, you can creat a standing desk, which is still lots better than sitting. I now have my computer on a “riser” and have to stand to use it. A friend has a standing desk at work… they’re available.
Two and a half years ago I had to go back to a corporate desk job after 10 years of being a stay at home mom and “full time” yoga instructor.
I felt the impact immediately. It was (and still is) torture. I could practically hear my lymphatic system grinding to a halt, my joints webbing over with stiff connective tissue, my muscles shortening, my spine rounding. Aaargh!
I want one of these desks. Any feedback from people who have convinced their ultra-conservative corporations to allow them to install one would be GREAT. I don’t expect my employer to pay for it (boy would I like to work for the company that would, though), but I work in a crazy conservative environment where any furniture movement needs to go all the way up the chain of command… seriously.
P.S. My dad and sister have been using the fitbit now for several months and they LOVE it.
This article says everything i have been reading in the past year. Even better, i bought a Fitbit One last November and it also changed my life! I also now work standing… I have the feeling i just read my own story!
thanks for putting it out there 🙂
Sarah @ Your Healthy Home Biz says
Kristen, so glad you raised this topic – it was amazing to me how much weight I gained when I started writing professionally – despite two little kids in tow.
Certainly tapping into the theme of your blog (real food and paleo eating) – standing up or moving slightly is more in tune with how our bodies are meant to move. Our ancestors didn’t run for an hour and then sit all day. They moved at a moderate pace most of the day with perhaps a few sprints or heavy lifting here and there. I have seen in my own life that I’m in better shape from just subtly moving more throughout my day!
I’ve been using a standup desk for about 3-4 years now and I love it. It saved my workday when I had back problems. I wrote about it here:
I’m itching for a treadmill desk – looking forward to your review!
I understand your concern and it scares the hell out of me…I am a paraplegia using a wheelchair for the past 15 years(I am 36 years). What can I do to increase my life span etc…. Because your article contains all true facts and you can understand where I am now
Heather Burris says
What about for those of us who work for an employer who won’t allow treadmill desks or stand-up desks? Would kneeling at our desk for a few hours a day instead of sitting in a chair help? I’m trying it out right now, but I don’t want to do it if it doesn’t actually help 😉
Instead of kneeling, I’d recommend squatting. Put your laptop on a box on the floor, then squat in front of it to use it.
Also, you may be surprised about employers going for standing desks. Many major corporations have made the shift and encouraged their employees to get standing desks. Studies have been done that show that workers are more productive at standing desks.
Heather Burris says
Your post nudged me to get some more input and I’m going to try and get an ergonomic assessment in an effort to get a stand up desk. I’ll try squatting a bit in the meantime. Thanks Kristen!
My coworker and I purchased table and shelf from Ikea and home depot (about $20) and then a stepper from Sears about ($35) and have been stepping and working for 6 months.. best thing we’ve ever done and much cheaper than the treadmill unit. We step 10,000 – 20,000 per day
What a cool idea! I didn’t even know what a stepper was until you mentioned it. Looks like a stair climber, but more portable.
AND HARDCORE. I don’t know if I could do stairs while typing for three hours, LOL!
John Anthony Capili says
Phew. That’s some scary infographics. I’m only lucky because theres a gym in our office building. As for the activity tracker, I use a FitBit Flex. Read about it on http://superhuman.ly. It really keeps me motivated and helps me reach my daily step goals. (I’m already at 10,000. Yay! :D) I think the flex band functions the same as the FitBit One, only that it’s a bracelet version.
I appreciate this post. Back problems run in my family. I injured my back in a minor car accident when I was 30 and at 36, I’m still recovering. My doctors and potential surgeons all told me the same thing, “Your sedentary career is worsening your condition”. I started experiencing restless leg syndrome too. So, I made the decision to change careers. Not easy but it was worth it!
When I was at my worst and sitting became unbearable, I propped my computer up on boxes, so that I could stand. I walked frequently. I’m not sure how feasible the treadmill desk is for most people, or changing careers for that matter, but I do agree that exercise saved me. I got serious about daily leg stretches (after being warmed up). When muscles in the legs get tight, they can exacerbate back pain. It’s important to remember, some exercise can further back pain such as running or weight lifting. Low impact exercise is best.
Thanks for the feedback!
I think a lot of people could sit more if they forewent chairs and opted for sitting on balls instead. You know the kind, right? It’s still sitting, but it requires you use your balance, it’s a bit more like squatting (a more natural position), and it works your abs and glutes while “resting.”
I also think that in the very least, standing desks could become more prominent. You can still sit at those when you tire of standing if you have a tall, rolling stool-like chair.
You’re so right! I used the ball too. I should have mentioned that changing it was/is important. Standing all day is not the answer either. I sat for a couple of hours, stood, walked, laid flat on a yoga mat (30 minutes), used the ball, etc.
In my case, I needed lower back support. Many suggested the back rolls or ergonomic lumbar support cushions. For me, a good ole thick rolled towel always did the trick. I still use one while driving. I hope others find this helpful.
Kristen, have you published a review of your use of the treadmill desk somewhere else? Thanks in case!
Thanks for this, Kristen. (And like Bekah, I’m looking for the update too!)
I do think that infographic is taking a bunch of statistics out of context and seems a bit propagandish. (I mean, really, 135 degrees may be better for your lower and mid back but what is it doing to your cervical spine?!) However, that said, clearly there’s no argument that walking trumps sitting for health. Kristen, I applaud your commitment to your health and your efforts to educate!
I’m wondering if a stationary bike at my desk would be a better one for me. One that has a seat with high back and legs fit under my desk. This would still be sitting but would be moving – and not a jarring motion like in walking on a treadmill. I think the walking would be too much movement when trying to read and type. I dont know!
Meggin D says
Just had to tell you that I love my fitbit one! I don’t know anyone else with one, so I’m wondering if you would be my fitbit friend?
If you want to look me up I’m megginthegreat
Tee Dee says
Thanks so much for this inspiring article, Kristen. I’ve been doing a lot more standing while on the computer and marching in place while watching tv since reading the book “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals”. The one statistic above that has me puzzled, however, is the standing vs chewing gum. If I’m reading it correctly, I’d use more energy sitting down and chewing gum than standing! That can’t be, can it? I don’t use a treadmill desk, but when I’m standing at the computer, I gently walk in place and only sit down when my legs and feet are really feeling tired (usually after 2-3 hours). Then I’ll sit for a bit and get back up and stand again. If you can, could you please address my question about chewing gum vs standing? Thank you and all the best…