One of the things they never tell you about the book business is how much sitting is involved. Reading and writing demand immobility, and immobility has consequences.
There was a lot of sitting in my last job, too. But there I would leave the house in the morning, drive to work, take the long walk from my parking stall to my office in another part of the corporate campus, head to my first meeting, and afterward spend the day traipsing from building to building, meeting to meeting, or down the street for coffee or lunch, before heading home again, having walked several thousand steps and climbed a lot of stairs (for a few years I took the stairs exclusively, even to meetings on the tenth and seventeenth floors.) The routines of office life guaranteed that minimum of motion.
This new life does not, and certainly not when combined with lockdown. Last September, it occurred to me that apart from a half-hour of daily exercise, I was almost completely sedentary. Those regular five or ten minute walks between meetings on the corporate campus had been replaced by twenty or thirty steps to the kitchen, the mailbox, the john.
I’m a bit proud of my ability to sit still for long periods of time. It’s an acquired skill. An abundance of physical energy is one of many excuses for why I was a terrible student. Over the decades, I’ve become adept at staying seated, concentrating on the page for hours at a time. The benefits are clear: the less you move, the more work you get done.
At the same time, I’ve read the warnings about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. According to the World Health Organization, two million people die every year from physical inactivity. Which is how many people have died from Covid. It’s a top ten leading cause of death and disability. And sedentary lifestyles increase the risks of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression, etc. The WHO estimates 60% to 85% of the world’s population is sedentary, “making it one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems of our time.”
Alarmed at what I was doing to my body, feeling like the hippo who lolls weeks at a time in the same muddy pool, eating 2.5 percent of its massive body weight each day, I decided in September to change things up.
I first tried reminding myself to get up and move every hour and set an alarm to assist me. It didn’t take. When you’re a big-league concentrator, you can reach over and turn off the alarm without even being aware you’ve done it.
Fine, I thought, I’ll start working out twice a day. That didn’t last a single day.
Reluctantly, I turned to the standing desk that’s been standing undisturbed in the corner of my home office for the past few years. I can’t remember why I bought it. I don’t think I used it for more than six hours before leaving it to collect dust. My back got sore after an hour or two of standing and I quit. I meant to dispose of the desk but never got around to it. Fortunately.
I started standing for an hour or two a day in early October and by Christmas, having learned the trick of laying a foam mat beneath my feet, I was able to stand all day without strain. It felt like an enormous achievement, never mind that every person in the foodservice, cleaning, and retail fields does it without thinking.
Beyond that fleeting sense of accomplishment, my life hasn’t changed. I do feel marginally more energetic and slightly less concerned about my health. Otherwise, I’m simply upright more often, and it feels as natural to stand up to work as it used to feel to sit down to work. There’s no self-help book in the experience.
The fun came over the holidays when I decided I was sufficiently committed to standing to pimp out my desk.
It’s a modest desk. I bought it because it was solid (steel), compact, adjustable, mobile (wheels), inexpensive, and highly rated on Amazon.