Get Off Your Ass!

I have a mug that has a black and white cartoon on it of three angels screaming. The caption says, “A message from God: GET OFF YOUR ASS!”

Recently the news has been reported that spending long periods sitting is as dangerous to our health as smoking. I assumed it was because being sedentary contributed to our collective asses getting bigger, but even regular exercise is apparently not enough to compensate. I hadn’t heard any explanation of this until today, when I stumbled upon this post by Linda Stone about computer apnea.

Apparently we tend to hold our breath or breath shallowly when we read email and do other computer related tasks. This is a bad thing. It causes a complicated cascade of physiological responses that lead to the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately–I’d rather not be facing a grizzly, thank you) we ‘re sitting at our computers. As Stone says, our bodies are all dressed up with no place to go. This leads to all sorts of health problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, increased hunger signals, etc.

We think of breathing as automatic, but apparently there’s something about sitting in front of a computer that interrupts our natural rhythms. This is bad news for writers, and a lot of other workers in western style economies.

We can’t change our entire work culture, but we can breathe. Deeply. And sit up straight so our lungs can expand. And get off our asses once an hour so the blood gets moving. (I know one writer uses a 48/12 pattern. Forty eight minutes of writing, twelve minutes of out-of-chair time. His mind has adapted to it, so when he sits down at the computer again, he steps right back into the story.)

Two years ago (with my husband’s help) I created a workstation combined with a low speed treadmill. I used it faithfully for about a year, and then, gradually, my recliner became my preferred work location. (Bad writer. No biscuit.) It looks like I need to get off my ass. Again.



Filed under Life, writing

18 responses to “Get Off Your Ass!

  1. Simone


    I saw the NYTimes article on this recently. It was disappointing to hear that my time at the gym and hiking, etc. does not offset the damage done by sitting at my desk for say 10 hours a day. At another writer friend’s urging, I purchased a rather decent stand up desk from for less than $70. I may not write my books standing up, but all the other work I do, email, research, etc. can be done standing up and I feel like I’m already noticing a difference in my body after a relatively short time.


    • I’m really glad that’s working for you, Tara. I’ve done the same thing with my “tread desk” when I didn’t feel like walking (although, not recently). Your success with it inspires me to get back to it. I have a friend that wrote standing up when he was on a really tight deadline (100K word novel in 5 weeks).

      I agree, it’s really disappointing that our workouts don’t balance the hours and hours we spend on our butts. But at least we have stronger muscles! πŸ™‚

  2. When I’m at work tomorrow, I’m going to make sure i get up from my desk every hour and walk around for a few mins. Thanks.

  3. Benita

    I went to a talk by a biomedical researcher (sorry, don’t have her name at my fingertips) who was studying muscle enzymes. She found that certain calorie burning processes simply turn off when sitting. Hey, our bodies don’t know there is more food than we need out there, and will conserve when they can. She recommended standing up…simply standing up, even if you need to immediately sit right back down, every 20 minutes.

  4. How interesting! Thanks for reminding us to move and breath!

  5. Virginia E

    There’s also the detail that if you don’t get up and move around, you’re more likely to forget to keep hydrated, which can slow your brain. You also run the risk of problems like clots. Standing up gives you a chance to listen to what your body is trying to tell you…like time to hit the facilities!

    • Staying hydrated is SO important, especially here in the desert. It’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger, too. I keep a glass of water beside me at all times. Sometimes I even remember to drink!

  6. Carol Ann Erhardt

    I have one of those premade wall shelves secured on my treadmill support arms (by hubby adding wooden blocks under the shelf). It fits snugly. I added a laptop riser which holds my laptop at the right height and angle. Now I walk on my treadmill and write. The time passes quickly, I find my output is greater than ever. Also solved my problem with upper shoulder pain. I can accomplish more in an hour than I could in three hours sitting at my desk.

  7. Thanks for blogging about this today. I think it’s very interesting that we don’t breathe normally. I’ll have to pay particular attention to my breathing when I do sit and read. I do have a regiment where I exercise 6 days a week–from Zumba to power walking to toning with light weights and I thought that was enough. Apparently, I was wrong. That said, I’m going to breathe and get off my ass. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the tip!

  8. Merrily Boone

    I tried the “bicycle” pedals under my desk–that didn’t work. What I do now is keep my coffee cup in the dining room on the other side of the house. When I’m printing something or waiting for something to load on the internet, I get up and go take a drink of coffee.

  9. Don’t forget our poor overworked eyes. Apparently our blink rate decreases when we stare at the computer monitor, leading to dry eyes and more serious problems. Keeping up the water intake and looking away from the screen at regular intervals is highly recommended.

  10. Adding to what Benita mentioned: Tim Ferriss’s 4-HR BODY discusses the processing of sugars and insulin-spiking foods by the body. To counteract the affects of this, a suggested method when on a cheat day is to drink a small amount of grapefruit juice (2 oz. or so) prior to eating the junk food, which forces the sugar calories you consume in the subsequent hour or so directly into muscle groups, bypassing the normal break down process. To burn this off without it hitting your system in the normal way, Ferriss suggests 20 or so squats x3 reps, within an hour of consuming the offending foods, which works several large muscle groups in your legs and “problem” areas that burn off calories you consumed. This reduces the hit to your glucose levels and prevents you from “storing” the energy, which since most of us don’t need that extra energy as we’re not underfed, it goes into fat storage. That’s a rather vague explanation. Ferriss covers the details, chemicals etc. in more depth.

    The way the body reacts to sitting for long periods may also be why meditational breathing has been proven to produce increased health and well-being when done regularly. I do remember reading that we frequently don’t realize we are breathing shallowly, and that deep breathing is something the average person does only during sleep. This may also help explain why not enough sleep is linked to weight gain. If you’re not getting enough oxygen your body isn’t going to be as efficient. As the saying goes, it’s all relative. Thanks for the great reminders, Frankie!

    • I imagine the 60 squats in an hour would be helpful in burning calories all by themselves! πŸ™‚

      I had the same thoughts about the benefits of meditation. Good observation, Roxy.

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