Worried about “Sitting Disease”? Check Out This Podcast

The Art of Charm“The Art of Charm” podcast interviewed me recently about my book “Scared Sitless” and office fitness in general.

The host, Jordan Harbinger, and I discussed sitting disease, office culture, habit formation, sedentary-studies research, ergonomics, and a bunch of other office fitness topics.

Jordan must be a really good interviewer, because I actually sound like I know what I’m talking about :)

You can listen to the podcast now at the Art of Charm website. It should be in the iTunes store soon.

The Office Fitness Venn Diagram

A field hasn’t truly arrived until its core concepts can be described as a Venn diagram. Office fitness is here to stay, and here’s how I diagram it:

Office Fitness Venn diagram

Office fitness integrates and optimizes:

  • your long-term health, mostly by preventing “sitting disease” but also by promoting a generally healthy lifestyle,
  • your near-term comfort, reducing your risk of injury and keeping you free from pain, and
  • your productivity, helping you continue to crank out the work that keeps you happily employed.

At the intersections of these areas are the activities that span them.

  • Where health meets comfort are exercise regimens and other self-care practices that build your body and stave off disease and injury.
  • Where comfort meets productivity are ergonomics practices and posture self-awareness that let you gracefully interact with your office furniture and computer equipment.
  • Where productivity meets health are wellness programs (typically created and administered by employers) that promote healthy lifestyles at work.

How You Fit in the Office-Fitness World

Anyone who works in an office, at a desk, and/or with a computer all day is at the center of this diagram looking out.

Office Fitness venn diagram YOU

Like all of us, you’re concerned about your long-term health and do the best you can to eat right, exercise regularly, and otherwise take care of yourself.

You care about your comfort at work and do your best to maintain a good ergonomic set-up, and you may have even cultivated some awareness of your posture and how to improve it.

You want to do your job as efficiently and productively as possible, and you appreciate your employer’s wellness programs and other efforts to keep you healthy as you work.

Your “office” may be a conventional place with individual or shared spaces, or it may be your home, or a co-working space, or a string of coffee shops and public libraries. Your conception of the word “fitness” is likely biased toward the athletic exercise model espoused by most personal training programs, but you may also be starting to wonder if there’s another “office fitness” model that might better serve you. That’s what I’m working on.

How I Fit in the Office-Fitness World

My interest in office fitness grew out of my massage practice, which is still going strong. As I have developed this field over the past eight years, I have written a book on office fitness and added to my list of service offerings:

  • personal training sessions for individual office workers,
  • small-group training for organizations of all sizes,
  • talks and speeches for associations and companies, and
  • consulting services for startups, small/medium businesses, and corporations.

Here’s how my subject-matter expertise and my business and clinical activities line up with the office-fitness Venn diagram:

Office Fitness venn diagram w Larry

To this point, I have helped hundreds of individual massage and training clients develop better office fitness habits. I have shared my clinical insights – as well as several years of research into “sitting disease,” exercise, posture, and ergonomics – in my office-fitness book, which has been read by thousands of office workers. Right now I’m working with both individual office workers and small- to medium-sized companies to design an office-fitness program to help even more people cultivate better office fitness habits.

New Fremont/Wallingford Massage Office

Stillpoint Health Associates buildingMy main massage location is now in the Stillpoint Health Associates building on Stone Way in Seattle’s Fremont/Wallingford neighborhood. My office hours here will be Mon. mornings and all day Tues., Thurs., and Fri., with occasional Sat. hours.

Stillpoint is a venerable Seattle institution. I gave and received several massages here when I was in massage school in 1997-98, and it had been around for almost a decade before then. It’s a comfy old house that has been converted into a holistic health center. I share the building with several other health care practitioners – naturopaths, acupuncturists, and other massage therapists.

Larry Swanson massage treatment roomThere’s a comfortable reception area, and my office is air conditioned and soundproofed. There are still a few more pictures to hang, and I haven’t found the right coat rack yet, but I’m otherwise pretty much settled in to my new office.

Stillpoint is on the border between Fremont and Wallingford, on Stone Way between 41st and 42nd Streets. There is plenty of free street parking as well as a few Stillpoint-dedicated parking spots behind the building. Metro buses 16, 26X, 31, and 32 stop about a block away, and the 44 stops about four blocks north on 45th Street.

There is plenty of room in my new space for my “no-sweat workouts” personal training sessions designed for computer/desk/office workers. If you work at a desk all day and are concerned about “sitting disease” and/or the pain and  the repetitive strain injuries that can come with computer work, I can teach you exercises and other self-care practices that can keep you comfortable in the short term and healthier over the long term.

I hope to see you here soon for a massage or personal training session. Call 206-624-6255 or visit my contact page to book a session.

Portable-Computing Ergonomics

woman looking down at smart phoneIt’s been a busy week in portable-computing ergonomics. A flurry of news coverage makes it seem as if we have suddenly awakened from a long slumber and realized that our smart phones, phablets, and tablets are out to get us.

First, on Tuesday The Atlantic published a widely shared article on What Texting Does to the Spine, which showed how looking down at your cell phone can wreck your neck.

what texting does to your spine

Then, just a few hours later, the savvy and prescient editors at GeekWire published an excerpt from my book entitled “Scared Sitless: 3 Strategies for Proper Ergonomics with Laptops, Tablets and Smartphones.”

That article shows how you can mitigate the hazards of portable computing by correctly setting up your phone, tablet, or laptop as you compute on the go. You can read the article here.

Then, on Thursday I got in the mail my copy of this week’s New Yorker, which opens with a half-page cartoon of a guy wearing a Google glass, holding a smart phone, wearing a smart watch, with a tablet and a laptop on the table in front of him saying “Hold on, I’m going to conference in my wrist.” (There’s also a cartoon in that issued that takes a fun jab at standing while working.)

I’m not sure where this flurry of interest in portable ergonomics came from, but it’s a good reminder to all of us caught up in the world of mobile computing to stay attuned to our ergonomic set-up, no matter where we are.

By the way, in the interest of historical accuracy, I will point out that I’ve on top of this issue since the inception of my office-fitness business. In fact, the very first post in this blog, way back in January of 2007, was Growth of PDA-Related Injuries a Concern.

Tae Kwon Do Champ Knocked Out by Sitting Disease

tae kwon do figureI ran into my friend Trey Lamont the other day. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur and a devoted father, Trey is a talented athlete whose accomplishments include multiple Washington-state tae kwon do championships.

I invited him to my book launch party (which was happening that night), and naturally he asked what the book was about. When I said that Scared Sitless was about sitting disease and what to do about it, he told me about his brief foray into the IT world.

“I worked out that same before, during, and after that job,” he said, “But while I was in IT, my back was killing me. When I was sitting at that computer all day, I had aches and pains I’d never had before.” As soon as he left his desk job and resumed his normal active lifestyle, the pain subsided.

Trey’s story echoes the research findings that show that you can’t exercise your way out of sitting disease. Numerous scientific studies have shown that sedentary behavior is an independent risk factor for the cardiovascular and metabolic disease that ensues after prolonged bouts of sitting. In other words, no matter how much you exercise after work, if you sit all day you are still at increased risk for a heart attack or diabetes, independent of your active after-work lifestyle.

Similarly, while there is not much rigorous scientific evidence (yet) to support this hypothesis, I am convinced that the stationary, repetitive nature of desk work has a similar deleterious effect on our muscles and joints, independent of our activity after work.

Sitting, or even standing, in one position all day doing the same repetitive micro-motions throughout the day is likely affecting our musculoskeletal system in ways analogous to the cardiovascular and metabolic havoc wreaked by being inactive all day.

You don’t have to be a tae kwon do champion to experience this. In fact, it may be more of an issue for less physically active office workers. I am convinced that we are glimpsing this phenomenon in the “weekend warrior” sports injuries that I and other trainers and health-care practitioners see in our practices. The de-conditioning that comes with a sedentary work style offers a plausible explanation for many of the sprains and strains and other injuries that office workers sustain when they leap up from their desk and onto the softball or soccer field.

A P.S. For Seattle Folks

True confession time: I didn’t actually “run into” Trey. I had purposefully sought out his Papa Bois food truck. If you are among the many Seattleites who are despondent over the abrupt closure of Paseo’s Caribbean sandwich joint in Fremont, I can recommend Trey’s Papa Bois sandwiches as a worthy replacement.

Photo credit: alexkalina / 123RF Stock Photo

Ikea’s Bekant Sit-Stand Desk Now Available

Ikea Bekant sit-stand deskUpdate Feb. 5, 2015. The Bekant is available again, at least in some stores in the Eastern U.S. We have done a review of the Bekant over at WorkWhileWalking, which has much more information on Ikea’s latest entry in the sit-stand desk market.

[original post]

Ikea’s Bekant Sit-Stand Desk Recalled

I went to the Ikea website today to explore the new Bekant height-adjustable sit-stand desk, but it was nowhere to be found. Curious, I did some googling and found these comments in Wired’s story about the Bekant:

  • “A customer service rep managed to tell me that certain certificates are missing, which is preventing its sale without excessive liability to IKEA.”
  • “Just went to Ikea in Kansas City last Saturday and they confirmed they have issues and have pulled them.”

There is also this comment on the Bekant store at GizMag: “IKEA’s desk has already been recalled (that’s why all the links are broken).”

This is too bad. I was looking forward to being able to recommend a affordable sit-stand desk.

Don’t worry, though, there are still plenty of standing-desk options out there: WorkWhileWalking has reviewed several sit-stand desks, and Ergo Depot’s Jarvis model is similar to the Bekant design, not quite as affordable, but much more sturdy and durable.

Risk of Depression – Another Reason to Sit Less

depressed office workerA new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that sedentary behavior is associated with an increased risk of depression. People who sit for prolonged periods are at 25% greater risk for depression.

The meta-analysis is the first study to evaluate all of the literature on depression and sedentary behavior. A group of Chinese researchers evaluated 17,626 potentially relevant articles and found among them 20 high-quality studies that examined links between sitting and depression. Their analysis of the data in these studies reveals that the 193,166 participants included in the studies were more likely to be diagnosed with depression than their more active peers – regardless of the type of sedentary behavior (desk work, TV watching, etc.) and regardless of their geographic location (studies from Australia, the Americas, Europe, and Asia were all represented in the analysis).

The paper recommends that “reducing sedentary behaviour should be advocated for the primary prevention of depression.” The authors also point out that causality could work the other way – that depressed people are more likely to be sedentary – and that further study is needed to consider this possibility. Regardless, a sure antidote for either condition is more movement and exercise. In other words, sit less.

Source: Zhai, Long, Yi Zhang, and Dongfeng Zhang. “Sedentary Behaviour and the Risk of Depression: A Meta-Analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, September 2, 2014, bjsports – 2014–093613. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-093613.

Office Fitness Interview #1 – Chris Goodine of Thalmic Labs

Thalmic Myo wearable controllerUPDATE, 4:05 p.m. PST. Perpetuating the time-honored tradition of technical glitches in online presentations, I had trouble with the Hangout on Air set-up, so the hangout started a little late. The new hangout that I started cut off the beginning of my intro and cut out at a few points in the middle (don’t panic when you get to 17:40). But once we got rolling, Chris had lots of great info to share. Here’s the video:

I’m very happy to be launching my new “Office Fitness Interviews” series today.

Today, Friday, August 29, at 2:15 Pacific time, 5:15 Eastern, I’ll interview Chris Goodine of Thalmic Labs in a live Google “Hangout on Air.” We’ll talk for about 20-30 minutes and will include a Q&A segment at the end.

The video of the interview is archived on YouTube.

Thalmic Labs makes the Myo, a new wearable armband that lets you control your computer and other devices remotely by waving your arm in the air and making gestures, very much like Tom Cruise’s character in the movie “Minority Report.”

Chris recently demonstrated how you can control a drone with the Myo, much to the delight of the attendees of the August Seattle Tech Meetup. Here is a video of a second, private demo he did right after the meetup.

There are, of course, a number of more down-to-earth applications of this nifty new technology, and I’ll talk with Chris about some of these today.

Chris is the Developer Evangelist at Thalmic Labs, which has given him the chance to talk with hundreds of technology innovators about how they’ll use the Myo with their applications and gadgets. I’m looking forward to hearing what he has learned from developers about what they are working on to improve computer ergonomics and office productivity.

How to Change When Change Is Hard

elephant & riderChanging our sitting habit won’t be easy. We need all the models we can get to find our way. A pair of professorial brothers offers one useful approach.

In their book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard,” Chip Heath and Dan Heath observe that we routinely make huge changes effortlessly and even joyously – getting married, having kids, accepting a new job. But when it comes to smaller changes like adopting a modest exercise regimen or filing expense reports on time – or getting up out of our office chair on a regular basis – we all too often grumble and drag our feet.

They attribute this dynamic to our divided mind. Part of it operates rationally. Part of it is driven by emotion. As they put it, “The rational mind and the emotional mind compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine.”

When the rational and emotional minds line up – when a pair of smart, committed, love-struck twenty-somethings decides to get married, for example – changing from single life to marriage can be a relatively easy transition.

But when there is any disagreement between the rational and emotional minds change gets difficult. The key to changing your behavior in these situations, they say, is to align and balance the rational and irrational minds in pursuit of your goal, whether it’s weight loss, streamlined work habits, or even bigger changes.

The Heath brothers use a three-part analogy to navigate the change process.

  • The rider represents your rational mind – staid and sane but prone to over-analysis.
  • The elephant represents your irrational mind – the lumbering, powerful, passionate seeker of instant gratification.
  • The path represents the environment in which change takes place.

Your rational rider needs encouragement in the form of direction to keep your behavior-change initiative on track. To “direct the rider,” you “follow the bright spots,” drawing on past successes and positive experiences to keep your motivation strong. You also “script critical moves,” specifying the exact behaviors that will get you to your goal – detailed instructions, not a vague goal like “lose weight.” You, of course, also “point to a desired destination” so that you know where you’re going.

Do you have a destination in mind for your office fitness journey?

Your irrational elephant needs encouragement in the form of emotionally understandable steps it can take. To motivate your elephant, you “find the feeling,” identifying the emotional elements – compassion, fear, dignity, etc. – that will keep it engaged in the change process. You need to cultivate your elephant’s sense of identity and let it know that growth is OK to help it feel comfortable through the change process. You also need to “shrink the change” for your elephant, breaking your bigger goals into more easily achievable tasks (clean out one dresser drawer, not the whole bedroom at once), which unblocks the way to the ultimate goal.

Can you think of one or two small, easily achievable new activities
you could do that would help you sit less at work?

You “shape the path“ by tweaking your environment to make change easy, turning off e-mail alerts, for example, to reduce distraction. To make it easy to scamper down the path, you also build small habits that support the bigger change you seek. You don’t have to run out and immediately buy a standing desk or a treadmill desk to get more routinely active at work.

Can you think of one or two little tweaks that could make to your existing office set-up
that would encourage you to stand up regularly throughout the day?

And, finally, you “rally the herd,” enlisting the help of friends, family, co-workers, and other allies to support your change.

Do any of your friends at work share your interest in combating “sitting disease”?

My focus on this blog and in the forthcoming “Scared Sitless” book is on habit formation and behavior change at the individual level. “Switch” looks at change at the individual level, the social/community level, and the societal/structural level. Another good book that takes this approach is “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything,” a slightly more intellectually rigorous look at the same terrain. If you’re looking to effect change beyond your own behavior – in your company, in your community, even in the world – “Switch” and “Influencer” are great starting points.