Ana Veciana-Suarez

A ‘balancing act’ at work is great for health, not for concentration

Ana Veciana-Suarez: We spend more time at a cubicle or in front of the TV than we do weeding, vacuuming or walking. We simply don’t move enough.
Ana Veciana-Suarez: We spend more time at a cubicle or in front of the TV than we do weeding, vacuuming or walking. We simply don’t move enough. Dreamstime.com

A friend and fellow writer is very excited about her workplace, not so much her employer as the actual area where she sits to do her job. After reading some entirely convincing article, she replaced the nice cushioned desk chair in her home office with an exercise ball.

I think all that starting at her computer monitor may have sent her off kilter. An exercise ball as chair, really? Yet, she swears by the change.

“I’ve got so much more energy,” she gushed. Apparently when you sit on a big, rolling ball you’re forced to use all kinds of core muscles. This increases your strength and improves your posture, with the added bonus that you burn more calories.

She suggested I try it. I demurred. As a daily gym devotee, I’m all for exercise balls, using them as instructed in classes where trainers can get a good laugh watching me roll off them. Use them while I’m trying to concentrate? When I’m desperate to make deadline? I don’t think so. Converting random, sometimes inchoate, thoughts into words is hard enough without trying to perform some balancing act. I don’t need any more distractions, though I salute those who can multitask.

In case you haven’t noticed, office work is getting a makeover — and I’m not referring to technology. Not only are we retrained in new software several times a year, but we’re also being encouraged to be less sedentary while we fry our brains. Stroll around any workroom and you’ll find a young office drone erect, on her two feet, as she deftly maneuvers her mouse or pecks away at her keyboard.

While exercise balls as office chairs may be a thing, they’re not nearly as popular as standing desks. These have become de rigueur in some office settings, a symbol of an employer’s commitment to health and wellness. For good reason.

We sit too much, and it’s not good for us. I did some quick, back-of-the-envelope math and found that butt-in-the-chair is my second most frequent position, with sleeping coming in first. This means that, though I go to the gym and hit the treadmill, the elliptical, the free-weights, and yes, the exercise ball, I’m still too sedentary. Most people are. We spend more time at a cubicle or in front of the TV than we do weeding, vacuuming or walking. We simply don’t move enough.

Which is bad for our health. Bad as in murderously bad.

If I sound a bit preoccupied by my ratio of sitting-to-moving, there’s a good reason. A couple of weeks ago, shortly after the exercise ball-as-chair encounter, I read an American Cancer Society study warning that if you sit for at least six hours a day (as I and pretty much anyone else chained to their desks does), the risk of dying early goes up 19 percent when compared with people who sit fewer than three hours.

So bucking a deep lazy streak, I decided to give a standing desk a whirl by temporarily switching my work setting to a bar-height counter. I wanted to get a feel for the situation before investing in any kind of equipment that needed assembly.

The move alone made me feel temporarily better, as when I clean out a closet or refuse the last slice of key lime pie. But (and there’s always a but) it did little for my concentration. Sure, I moved around more — to change my shoes, to shift my stance, to watch a baby lizard scurry under a chair — but writing was so much more difficult on two feet. I couldn’t focus. I lost precious time doing everything but what I was scheduled to do.

I’m embarrassed to report that I’m back to butt-in-the-chair. No standing desk or exercise ball for me. But since I’m open to living longer and healthier, I’m looking into the latest trend in office furniture — the treadmill desk workstation. Maybe I can get in my 10,000 steps a day while writing a bestseller. Now, that would be true productivity.

Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at avecianasuarez@gmail.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.
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