NPR Encourages Active Minds … And Bodies?

Last summer, National Public Radio aired a segment called “Sitting All Day Is Worse For You Than You Might Think.” The reporter (probably the type of person who hands out fruit at Halloween and calls the authorities on loud neighborhood parties) presented new research that people who exercise regularly but also sit for long intervals are at risk for serious health problems. Like heart disease, high cholesterol, and Walmart shopping scooter serious.

This news came as a surprise. Although I run long distances and bike and all that, I also really enjoy sitting and reclining. I work at a desk for much of each eight-hour work day, and although I’m ashamed to admit it, there are moments when I wish the photocopier machine were within arm’s reach so I wouldn’t have to get up to print letters. When Tina Fey revealed in her memoir Bossypants that some of the male writers at Saturday Night Live pee in cups so they don’t have to get up to go to the bathroom, I thought, “Wow! Cool idea!”

But as much as I wanted to ignore it, I did see the party-pooper reporter’s point that it’s worthwhile to get up and move even when I’m chained to my desk. Based on a couple of web searches and observations of active people, I came up with the following baseline list of things to try to do at work every day.

1. Fidget. You know that guy, right? The one who taps his foot incessantly or who’s constantly looking around the room to see what’s going on. Is it annoying? Maybe. But is he at risk for heart disease? Probably not. Studies show that fidgeters burn more calories than people who sit still, and researchers call this behavior NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis).

2. Hydrate. People tease me about this, but I drink about ten cups of water or tea every day at work. When I’m not getting up to make more tea, I’m running to the bathroom with a panicked expression on my face. High cholesterol, begone!

3. Be helpful. My coworkers are constantly popping out of their chairs to help each other change the printer’s toner or take out the recycling. This strategy has the added bonus of getting people to like you while you’re being active.

4. Take short movement breaks. Through Internet research, I discovered that you can download software for $45+ that reminds you to stand up and stretch at regular intervals throughout the work day. Did somebody say, “Magic beans for sale?” If you’re not interested in spending megabucks to remember to take an activity break, try standing up to take a phone call or using the bathroom that’s farthest away.

5. Take longer movement breaks if possible. I mean, sure, there are days when I really am chained to my desk from 9 to 5. But mostly I can afford to take 15-minute breaks to go for a walk or stretch.

It’s hard to admit it when killjoys end up being right, but since I began incorporating these items into my daily routine, I’ve stopped returning home from work all glassy-eyed and cranky. And I think I’d better keep NPR’s advice in mind for as long as I’m in an office and not lobster-fishing off the coast of Alaska, or whatever it is those people with active jobs do.

Mari Zagarins

When Mari isn't running, biking, hiking, or jumping-jacking in and around her home in Montpelier, she is practicing her facial expressions in the mirror and contemplating whether she should learn to swim.