Guest Hero: Katy Bowman - Part biomechanist, part science communicator, and full-time mover at nutritiousmovement.com
Hello cubicle crouchers, open space sitters, corner office pacers, home den dancers and coffee shop squatters. My name is Brock Armstrong and I am… You’re expecting me to say “I am the Workplace Hero” but I am not. The goal of this podcast is to make you into a Workplace Hero. I am simply here to give you something to listen to on the subway.
Before we really dive in, here’s a teaser - some stats for you to be horrified at: Only 18% of adults get the total amount of physical activity recommended for good health. And 40% get no physical activity at all!
We average North Americans work more than 47 hours a week and we are sitting down for most of that time. In fact we’re sitting down more than ever before in history: 9.3 hours per day! That's more time than we spend sleeping which is 7.7 hours per night.
Before I overwhelm you with even more stats and percentages, I want to encourage you to visit SkywalkerFitness.ca. That is the coaching business that I run. Whether you are wanting to run a 10k or a marathon, race in a triathlon, pack on some muscle, clean up your diet, or get totally ripped, I will create a plan for you. And there are no cookie cutter programs allowed. Just 100% tailored programs that fit around your life’s commitments. And for being a Workplace Hero, I will give you a special deal on your first 3 months of coaching. Head over to SkywalkerFitness.ca and send me a note referencing this podcast so I can start building you the perfect program to meet your wellness goals.
And now back to some the horrifying stats…
Did you know that sitting for 6 hours (or more) per day makes you up to 40% more likely to die within 15 years than someone who sits less for than 3 hours per day? And here's the kicker – this is true even if you get regular exercise.
Humans evolved to participate in an assortment of daily movement and physical challenges. Unfortunately, the vast majority of humans aren't honouring our genes. And being a fitness enthusiast, or even a serious competitive athlete, doesn’t give you a free pass here.
Between 1980 and the year 2000, exercise rates in the UK stayed the same but sitting increased by 8% and obesity doubled.
Bluntly put - sitting on our butts is killing us and making us fat! Wait that was a strange order to say that in… let me try that again: sitting on our butts is making us fat and killing us!
Obese people on average sit for 2 and a half more hours per day than thin people. And, incidentally, 1 in 3 of us is currently obese.
Our desk jobs, commuting, watching TV, and playing video games all conspire to make us sedentary and this comfortable lifestyle takes its toll. Even those of us who exercise regularly still spend much of the workday planted in a chair in front of the computer.
The solution: Reduce our sedentary behaviors to a total of just 3 hours per day and we have the potential to increase our average life expectancy by 2 years. Awesome! Right?
Let’s look at what happens in our bodies when we sit? • Electrical activity in our leg muscles shuts off, • Calorie burning drops to only 1 calorie per minute, • Enzymes that help break down fat drop by 90%, • After 2 hours of sitting our HDL (good cholesterol) drops by 20%, • After 4 hours, our insulin effectiveness drops 24% and thus risk of diabetes rises, • After work, each extra hour of "couch time" raises all of these risks factors by another 11%.
I have a confession to make. I am one of those people who has a standing workstation. I originally bought it because I read that standing at my desk, I can burn up to 50 extra calories per hour. That is approximately 400 extra calories per workday! I rocked that standing desk in a room full of sitters and I was pretty darn proud of myself… until I met Biomechanist, Katy Bowman.
If you hang out on internet health sites, chances are you’ve read a headline that screams something like "sitting is the new smoking."
These headlines imply that sitting, like smoking, is statistically associated with numerous health issues including death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. And that it will take some time before we all wise up and quit.
I’ll let her explain her job.
As a biomechanist and kinesiologist, I help people understand that the shape of their body on the gross level (i.e. their posture) affects the shape of the cells themselves. In other words the way you have been sitting has changed the tiny parts that make up your structure; like the shape and density of your bones, the length of your muscles and tendons and the resting tension in your connective tissues. The adaptations to sitting on this deeper cellular level means that reaping the benefits of not sitting so much requires more than just swapping one static position for another. It requires an entire overhaul of the way you think about and move your body.
Standing Workers (even the stationary ones like I was when I worked behind a cash register at a liquor store) burn about 1,500 calories while at work; a person behind a desk might burn 900. This goes a long way in explaining why people gain 16 pounds within 8 months of starting a sedentary office job.
But even those with active jobs are generally engaged in repetitive tasks that only mobilize a fraction of their joints and muscles. Furthermore, the grind of physical labor can lead to assorted overuse injuries and health problems.
But ok… what it really comes down to is that you don't absolutely have to stand all day long but you should absolutely interrupt your sitting and move around as often as you can.
Back to Katy…
As a longtime proponent of the "stop sitting so much" campaign, I am thrilled that sitting is finally getting attention in the media. Research into diseases associated with sitting like cancer, aren't new. The first article I ever read in 1997 on sitting and risks of cancer was published in 1993, which means scientists, at least somewhere, have known about this relationship for at least 20 years.
In light of sitting resurgence, sitting less campaigns, healthy minded individuals (like me) have been super motivated to get out of there chairs and on to Physio balls, standing workstations (like me), and tread desks.
The options to sit less are endless so the notion that standing in one place is a solution to sitting so much reminds me of that joke about all accidents happening within 15 miles from your home. “I read that all accidents happen within 15 miles of one's house so I moved” or “I read that sitting kills so now I'm afraid to stop standing.”
Which is pretty much what I did when I was working for an email marketing firm in 2011. And… many of my coworkers followed my lead.
As I explained more deeply and my book “Move Your DNA - Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement" the sitting itself really isn't the problem. It is the repetitive use of a single position that makes us literally become ill in a litany of ways.
For example, muscles will adapt to repetitive positioning by changing their cellular make up, which in turn leads to less joint range of motion. This muscle and joint stiffness can lead to a stiffening of the arterial walls within these muscles.
Is this bumming you out? Just hang on…
The positive news is that because we've all been sitting "static" the same way for decades, changing our static positioning, i.e. standing more, can improve our health as can moving intermittently throughout the day.
Ah ha! Moving intermittently throughout the day! Now this is actionable.
When I was working for a big financial firm in downtown Toronto, I would often set an alarm on my iPhone to go off every hour, on the hour, and do pushups, or calf raises, or squats, or jumping jacks, or burpees.
Getting up and raising your heart rate for 4 minutes, once an hour, gets you the 30 minutes per day that your doctor has been nagging you about. Plus it makes you more productive, clears your head, gets you refocused and energized. Yes, getting up from your desk is good for your brain as well as body.
When you are not at work, look for opportunities to move around as well. Never sit on a bus. Always take the stairs. If you are on an escalator, pretend it’s stairs. Ignore what your mom told you and bounce a leg or fidget whenever you can. This extra movement is called “Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis” or “NEAT” and it all adds up!
Here’s a good one - I never sit through a commercial break. They’re a built in timer that should cue you to get up and do something. I keep a set up dumbbells by the TV to swing around or I just wander into the other room. Just remember to come back before Rick tells Carl to stay in the house again.
But anyway, lets get back to the comparison of sitting and smoking…
Sitting and smoking are different. Sitting itself isn't the creator of ill effects the way a cigarette is. Sitting, the position, is perfectly harmless when consumed appropriately. It's not like putting your butt into a chair makes you ill. As they say, it's the dose that makes the poison.
But isn’t “sitting still” what got us in trouble in the first place?
Language can also get us into trouble when seeking solutions because we keep equating sitting with not moving. But in many cases the physical effects of sitting are just as much created by repetitive geometry (always sit in the same way) as they are by the metabolic changes that come with being sedentary.
So in the same way that standing can improve your health, so can sitting differently which is great news for the millions of people who aren’t fit enough to stand for a considerable amount of time yet. Yes, even you who wants to change your risk profile for disease but feels trapped by your current physical limitations can change how you sit and improve your health on a cellular level.
So this week your homework is clear. No, I don’t want you to take up smoking! Come on, man! No. Every day this week, set an alarm on your phone, computer, tablet or whatever to go off every hour. When it goes off. stand up and do some sort of movement that you don’t usually do. Like I said before: pushups, calf raises, squats, jumping jacks, burpees, dips on your chair, even some moves you learned in your yoga class would do. Just do something for 4 minutes and enjoy the feeling of rejuvenation, focus, clarity and a smidgen of superiority… ‘cause, well, you earned it. Extra points if you do it in the middle of a meeting. I’m serious. Every revolution needs a leader.
Workplace Hero is researched, written, narrated and recorded by me Brock Armstrong with additional editing and social media from Eleanor Cohen. Artwork by Ken Cunningham and music by my old band, The Irregular Heartbeats. Today’s Hero is Biomechanist and DNA mover, Katy Bowman. Go to primalblueprint.com/dont-just-sit-there for more of Katy’s suggestions on how to become and better non-sitter. Special thanks to Katy and Primal Blueprint publishing for allowing me to use portions of their Don’t Just Sit There audiobook for this podcast.