Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Social Experiment - No Sit!

One of the latest study sets that has been popping up the media frequently over the last year has been the observed association between sitting for significant periods of time every day and all-cause mortality. I'm not a scientist, but my mind leaps to all of the other possible variables that these findings suggest, i.e. that office workers spend a lot more time indoors than the average 'active/standing job' worker (farmers, spots people, etc), that they tend to work in cities and are thus exposed to a lot more pollution, etc etc etc.

However, let's pretend that the true root of the sitting = earlier average death is, in fact, the lack of activity that just sitting instead of standing or walking around during those hours would bring. We can also think of the other 'dangers' that come from our seated lifestyle - deep vein thrombosis, for one.

An obvious solution? Don't sit down!

But how feasible is this in today's society?

Office workers can get one of those oh-so-nifty standing-up desks.

Mark Sisson listed a bunch of solutions for those who can't necessarily splash out on such a furniture item.

At my school, both teachers and students are forced to sit at low tables & desks, usually for the entire lesson. As a Drama teacher, I can easily break that mold for myself and my students, but what about in English lessons?

Today was my first no-sit experiment at school. From the moment I woke up, until the moment I sat down to write this blog post (if I had my laptop I could feasibly still be standing) this evening, I did not sit down except to briefly tie my shoes. I try not to sit on the toilet, but I was wearing heels at work. During Drama classes, I stood at all times, which is not that unusual except that I was aware of it. My senior English Language class posed more of a problem, as the students worked at their desks and I couldn't sit on chairs to help them. I do tend to rest on tables when I teach though, since I remember being distracted as a student when my teacher would hover over me. Today, I determined that kneeling beside students was legal, as was briefly sitting on the floor with my Drama students in order to use my laptop to record assessment of group performances.

To outline my day:

* Woke, dressed, sat down to put on my VFFs, and walked to work.
* Arrived at my desk, sat to swap shoes, put laptop on filing cabinet to use whilst standing.
* Drama class #1 - went through physical activities with the kids, stood to give instructions whilst they sat on the floor, rested laptop on pile of gym mats to mark roll and mark books.
* Drama class #2 - same as #1, but with 3 minutes of sitting on the floor to face performances and assess with my laptop.
* English Language class - stood and walked around the room whilst delivering the lesson, knelt by students to give individual help, and was painfully aware that they were all but confined to their own seats.
* Returned to desk and changed shoes, ran a few professional errands, and then walked home.
* Swapped bag and walked to the organics store to pick up raw milk and cream plus other good things for upcoming recipe posts, walked home.
* Finally gave my tired body a rest by plonking down at the computer with a bowl of frozen blueberries topped with a little Nola and raw cream (spontaneous ice cream!)

Experiment results - it is possible for me to complete the requirements of my employment without sitting for extended periods of time, although changing the system of behaviours restricting the movements of students is a tougher ask. At home, I sit to use the computer, but could create a temporary rise for my keyboard and screen if I so desired.

In case you know someone who will respond to these ideas by thinking 'oh, but you & your students get some measure of activity each day, you'll be right', then you should read the recent post on Health Habits detailing a study that showed prolonged inactivity is not significantly offset by occasional daily activity (like a workout at lunchtime breaking up an eight-hour sit-fest). As noted in a recent article on The New York Times website:
Regular workout sessions do not appear to fully undo the effects of prolonged sitting. ‘‘There seem to be different pathways’’ involved in the beneficial physiological effects of exercising and the deleterious impacts of sitting, says Tatiana Warren, a graduate student in exercise science at the University of South Carolina and the lead author of the study of men who sat too much. ‘‘One does not undo the other,’’ she says.

No, like all things, it's what you do frequently and consistently that really matters in the long term.

But what to do about the students that end up sitting at their tables for seventy minutes, four times a day? They will be tomorrow's guinea pigs in my on-going social experiment! In the meantime, I've had enough sitting (though my tired-from-yoga bod is really quite appreciative of the rest!) - it's time to get cooking!


Paleo Garden said...

I lived in a couple of different countries where people squatted when having a conversation in public places (usually when no tables/chairs available). For example, if you and friends were on the corner for a few minutes, perhaps all of a sudden you'd all just start squatting. I still do this from time to time, and it's funny when westerners give me a weird look when I squat to talk to my kids.

Not to get too detailed here, but you don't mention what you plan on doing during toilet time. Where I lived, no one sitted, again... they squatted. When having a meal they sat with knees forward, meaning they sat on the back of their ankles. I think it would be a good experiment to not sit for a day, would be interesting. However, at the same time, I think squatting to do various "business" and sitting a certain modified way (e.g., not on a chair) while eating, and even laying on the ground/couch when taking a break wouldn't be breaking "character."

Just a few words of perspective and a few words of encouragement. Sounds like a cool thing to try (I admittedly never have for a day), looking forward to hearing how it goes.

meghan said...

So funny that you just posted this, as I started standing most of the day last week. I knew that sitting was bad but until I read that NYT article I was too lazy to do anything about it. I usually just kick my heels off when I'm working at my stand up desk and pop them back on to walk around the office. A few things I've noticed: 1, it's not that difficult. 2, my ankles and calves have been sorer than usual, and I notice it especially during sprints in my workouts. I know it's because our floor is basically cement with carpet over it. Hopefully after some time my feet will acclimate.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the article. Obviously the study has been done on SAD eaters. I am ZC, am very active, but I'm a paralegal who has an 8-hour a day desk job. I don't fear the sitting because I know I am active and my diet is sound. I believe 90% plus of how you look is diet; the other 10% is genetic and fitness.


Anonymous said...

I have always had an active job- Occupational Therapist and now a Massage Therapist for the last 12 years. I often tell my clients that I could not do a job where I was forced to sit all day. My husband is a guitar teacher and has to sit all day at his job. He is now, at 41, starting to have a chronically tight low back and seeing his fitness level falter. I am a firm believer in being active as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

I was a technician for 9 years and from the time I left my house in the morning until I returned in the evening I had maybe 45 minutes of sitting. Yet I was still overweight and out of shape. My diet was of course terrible. Fast food, junk food and soda. I would exercise and lift weights as well. Just goes to show that a bad diet ruins it for you. I've been on a relaxed paleo diet for 2 months and have lost ten pounds and I feel much healthier.