Kill your chair before it kills you

Most of us spend most of the work day sitting down. We sit at our desks, we sit in meetings, we sit down at lunch and we sit down for seminars, phone calls, orientations and just about anything else that goes on during a regular work week.

Which is why this excellent NY Times article by Zack Canepari is so important. It opens with these provocative words:

Your chair is your enemy.

It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.

We all knew that sitting down all day is bad for you, but I at least thought that you could offset this with plenty of exercise outside of work. I was wrong.

The article goes on to list two reasons why sitting down is so bad for your health. First, it’s extremely passive which means your body burns very few calories while you sit. Just standing up activates your whole system to a much larger degree and burns more energy. As the article says:

Part of the problem with sitting a lot is that you don’t use as much energy as those who spend more time on their feet. This makes it easier to gain weight, and makes you more prone to the health problems that fatness often brings.

But it doesn’t stop there. Apparently:

…when you spend long periods sitting, your body actually does things that are bad for you.

Actively contracting muscles produce a whole suite of substances that have a beneficial effect on how the body uses and stores sugars and fats.

There’s science to back this up:

A study of people who sit for many hours found that those who took frequent small breaks — standing up to stretch or walk down the corridor — had smaller waists and better profiles for sugar and fat metabolism than those who did their sitting in long, uninterrupted chunks.

Go read the whole article – it’s a great read.

To all of this, I’d add that in my experience being physically inactive also dulls my mind. If you sit down passively all day, this makes it harder to be creative, energetic and motivated.

So what’s the solution?

Given the problem, it’s obvious that solution can’t be all about exercising before and after your work day. This wouldn’t address the fact that you’d still be sitting still for long periods of time. The solution has to be about integrating movement into the work day.

Here are three things you can do about this:
1: Take a lunch walk
Make it a tradition to take a short walk with some co-workers every day after lunch. Not only is this a chance to get moving, it can also be a nice way to chat with your co-workers and refresh workplace relationships.

2: Get up and move regularly
Make it a rule to never sit down more than 30 minutes at a time. Then you must get up to stretch, go smoke, get coffee, go chat to someone in the next office, whatever.

Set a timer to remind you if that’s what it takes. There’s even software you can install on your PC to remind you to get away from the PC :o)

3: Work standing up some of the time
There are many things you can do at work, even if your butt isn’t firmly planted in your chair. You can have stand-up meetings which have the added advantage that they’re a lot shorter! You can do your phone calls standing up, which has the advantage that your voice sounds clearer and more energetic. You can even work on your computer standing up if you have a desk that raises or can find a high table.

Bonus tip
I really, really like the Specialized Lunch Ride:

Your take

How much of your work day is spent in a chair? Have you thought about how this affects you mentally and physically? What do you do to get out of your chair?

Please write a comment – I’d love to hear your take.

Related posts

I wrote this post standing up :o)

14 thoughts on “Kill your chair before it kills you”

  1. LOVE the lunch ride. Along the same vein, my company started a mid-afternoon run every Tuesday. We are a commercial real estate brokerage firm, and most of the guys here are runners, so we opened up our Tuesday run to other real estate people in San Francisco. Made a film about it, wanna see it here it goes:

  2. I never realized that my chair at work was an occupational hazard! The next time I’m on a job interview that is going badly, and the interviewer asks me why I left my last job, I’m going to say that “they had too many chairs there”.

    When he asks me to clarify, I’ll say that it made me feel as if they didn’t really care about me.

  3. Alexander,

    Thank you. I know I spend too much time in the chair. Now you tell me it’s my executioner. I’m getting up! I downloaded this free timer. It seems to work ok with a variety of sounds. I’m no technician so I’m not saying it will work for everyone.

    You are the man!

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell
    My blog:
    Recently I wrote: “Your greatest strength is your weakness”

  4. For those of us who are not allowed to install timer software at work, there is an online countdown timer (, with all the essential features: you can set any time interval, it will start automatically when you open the page, restart after it has counted down to zero, and you can choose between a sound alert (if you are alone) or a pop-up (if you don’t want to disrupt your office mates).

  5. Alex –

    I try to avoid too long in any one place. I work on the phone and often walk around during calls. I also try to get a walk or run into the schedule every day. It takes discipline but I cannot bear sitting in the same place for more than about 45 minutes.

    Great post – thanks


  6. I changed my desk to a configuration so I can stand up. I stand for about 75% of the day. It has been great for my back!

  7. Alex,
    I use it, when I am not so much jogging outside,
    and when I feel, I am sitting to much,
    if possible, I prefer working on a higher desk, where I can stand or a mixture between standing and sitting, just like at a bar, just without drinks ;-).

    When I use the stepper, it is quite astonishing, how many calories you may burn.
    I testet it with a watch from polar.
    In 30 minutes I burned 300 kcalories, not bad …

  8. I think I mentioned in a previous comment that I recently started a new job, a job which coincidentally offers amazing flex options … long story short, because I have so much flexibility with my new schedule, I picked up a part-time job waiting tables. (Who doesn’t need a little extra cash in this economy?) It’s AMAZING how much better my body feels now that I spend a good part of my work day moving around. My typical schedule now looks something like this:

    9:00 – 10:30 a.m. : answer emails, work on projects, articles, etc. (aka desk time)
    11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.: serve cheesburgers, fill ice bins, haul high chairs, etc.
    5:00 – 9:00 p.m.: back to the computer and “think” work

    Sometimes I alternate, spending an entire 8-hour day at the office, followed by an entire 8-hour day at the restaurant. Now matter what the exact breakdown of hours is, I find that my body and mind are feeling sharper, energized, and more productive on all fronts now that I’m mixing mental work with physical work. The physical work gives my mind a chance to chew on problems and solutions for my “desk” job, and the mental work gives me the creative challenges my brain craves (along with a break from being on my feet). The added bonus is that I can fit into a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in years!

    I know not everyone has the option to pick up a physical side job job, so I highly recommend looking into a kneeling chair, which can be found at On days that I do work at my computer for an 8-hour clip, a mix of standing, kneeling, and sitting seem to keep my back from getting too tight. (A yoga class afterwards helps too!)

    Also, Alex, thanks for the bday wishes! :)

  9. Haha, this cracked me up:

    “Make it a rule to never sit down more than 30 minutes at a time. Then you must get up to stretch, go smoke, get coffee, go chat to someone in the next office, whatever”

    I’m not sure smoking while standing constitutes a healthy alternative to sitting down and not smoking!

    Anyway, I couldn’t live without my adjustable desk. And instinctively I’m always pacing the floor when I’m on the phone.

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