Stop sitting and get moving

It’s time to stop sitting and get moving. Automation saves time, time that we can use to do other things. Over time, humans have engineered daily tasks so that less and less effort is required. We no longer have to lift garage doors, get up from the couch to change the channel, or chop vegetables. There is even a vibrating mascara brush, in case applying makeup is just too strenuous. Have we lost the ability to do anything for ourselves anymore? Have we become too sedentary?

Clay Shirky says humans now have more free time than ever before. In his presentation at TED@Cannes in June 2010, he says that the world collectively now has a trillion hours of free time a year to commit to shared projects. Which is great, assuming that we use this Cognitive Surplus to advance society in a positive direction rather than log hours on pointless screen time. There is a rising obesity epidemic. We need to get moving.

James A. Levine, MD and Selene Yeager say that the digital age “has robbed us of the chance to burn up to 2, 000 calories every day.” They have a simple answer – add daily activity to burn calories. Their theory is called NEAT science, or nonexercise activity thermogenesis. In their book, Move a Little, Lose a Lot, they say that by incorporating NEAT science into your day, you will:

  • burn 2,100 calories a week at the office
  • be smarter in as little as 3 hours
  • reduce fatigue by 65%
  • extend your lifespan by 4 years

What’s surprising is the type of activity they recommend – low-intensity activities like standing and walking at frequent intervals throughout the day to boost your basal metabolic rate. For example, they found that 3-20 minute walks per day burn more calories than walking for an hour a day all in one go. The mere act of standing burns three times as many calories as sitting. Levine even went so far as to engineer a stand-up desk, or SUD so that he could work while walking at a comfortable, slow pace.

A couple of years ago I interviewed an extreme adventure racer preparing for the Gobi March desert race. As part of his preparation for the race, he got rid of his office chair, moved his computer to a higher table and worked standing up. He said he lost more than 20 pounds by adding in daily activity this way and would never work sitting down again.

I think it’s time to raise my desk higher and get rid of the chair.

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