The Silicon Valley Voice

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Sitting Ducks

You’d better sit down; I’ve got some scary news for you.

On the other hand, maybe you’d better not.

Better not sit, I mean. Because my scary news concerns the mortal danger you face every time you sit, and since sitting is one of things you do best, and most, you really shouldn’t risk it. I can live with the guilt from boring you. I couldn’t live with the guilt from killing you.

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The fearsome news about sitting is explained in excruciating detail in a recent article in The Washington Post. “Health experts have figured out how much time you should sit each day,” reports reporter Brigid Schulte. This is important news since “prolonged sitting is dangerous and associated with a significantly higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and depression, as well as muscle and joint problems.”

Sounds bad, right? Even someone like you, who doesn’t have any muscles, is likely to find yourself standing in the middle of your cubical, pointing at your Aeron chair, and shouting “J’accuse!”

Nor can you consider your desk chair as your only mortal enemy. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it is clear that your desk chair is in cahoots with the Barcalounger in your TV room, the Ikea sofa in your living room, and the futon in your bedroom. They’re all plotting your early demise, I’m sure; though I’m not sure why. Maybe they want you out of the way so they can run off with that saucy settee.

The focus of Shulte’s article is a research breakthrough is from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a well-respected scientific publication, usually focused on the risks of rugby players who wear knit caps that are too tight and the potential for crippling knuckle injuries to professional tiddlywinks players.

“Americans should begin to stand, move and take breaks for at least two out of eight hours at work,” the researchers conclude. Then, adopting a patronizing tone not heard since the Boston Tea Party, the royals insist that “Americans should gradually work up to spending at least half of your eight-hour work day in what researchers call ‘light-intensity activities.'”

Naturally, you’re suspicious about the motives of the Brit scientists. Do they really care about our health, or do they want us leave our desks and lark about so our productivity drops, our economy tanks, and they can take back our country? It’s a possibility, to be sure, but even American experts are standing up for not sitting down. Like James Levine, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic, has “found that the reason some people seem to eat a lot, never work out, yet never put on weight, is because they’re standing, walking and moving more throughout the day, rather than sitting for hours on end.”

Obviously, Levine’s conclusion is totally bogus. You are constantly walking from your desk to the candy machine, where you stand for minutes deciding between the Kit Kat and the Abba Zaba, before walking back to your desk, where you don’t sit for more than the instant it takes to stuff the candy down your throat, and then you’re up and off again, walking briskly back to the candy machine. You do this a dozen times a day and you haven’t lost an ounce.

Despite the questionable science behind the global drumbeat for us all to join the walking undead, it’s clear to me that the problem of sitting at work isn’t the sitting, but the work itself. Yes, perhaps your body does start to deteriorate when you sit for 10 hours at work and then drive yourself home to spend another 10 hours watching reruns of “Gilmore Girls;” but this is nothing compared to the mental erosion that occurs when you spend even 15 minutes in one of your company’s important staff meetings.

In recognition of this sad fact, author Shulte reports that “some companies are holding standing meetings.” This doesn’t strike me as a great leap forward, unless, of course, the boss stands in one room, while you stand in another. A better solution comes from the National Academy of Sciences, where physicist Jennifer Heimberg “goes on a run with her boss for her annual performance evaluation.”

The concept of a running meeting makes perfect sense to me. And you can forget the starter’s pistol. If there’s any better way to get you off your butt and into high gear, it’s got to be the sound of your boss saying, “Let’s start this meeting with a PowerPoint.”

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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