I have a friend who is very excited about her workplace. I don’t mean her employer (though she seems perfectly happy with that, too), I’m talking about the actual area where she sits to do her job. After reading some entirely convincing article, she replaced the comfortable, cushioned desk chair in her office with an exercise ball.
To be honest, at first I thought years of staring at her computer monitor may have sent her off kilter. An exercise ball as a chair, really? Wouldn’t that be hard on the back? Unstable? Distracting? But no, she swears by the change.
She’s got so much more energy, she says. 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 declined. I’m all for exercise balls for those who go to the gym, even if it’s just so that trainers can get a good laugh watching people roll off them. But use them while I’m trying to concentrate? When I’m neck-deep in spreadsheets? When I’m desperate to make a deadline? I don’t think so. Work can be hard enough without trying to perform a physical balancing act. Though I salute those who can multitask like that, I don’t need any more distractions.
In case you haven’t noticed, office work is getting a makeover, and in more areas than just 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 toil. Stroll around a workroom in many offices and you’ll find an employee – usually a young, energetic one, I’m given to understand – working while standing up, deftly maneuvering their mouse or pecking away at their keyboard without having to sit down. While exercise balls as office chairs may be a thing, they’re not nearly as popular as standing desks. These have become quite common in some office settings, as a symbol of an employer’s commitment to health and wellness.
For good reason, I suppose. We sit too much, and it’s not good for us. Quick math will tell me that between my job, writing, and being at home, butt-in-the-chair is my most frequent position, with sleeping coming in second. This means that I’m far too sedentary, as are most others. We spend more time at a desk 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. Like, really bad.
And if I sound like I’m harping a bit on the importance of people’s sitting-to-moving ratio, there’s a good reason. I heard Dr. Oz warn viewers just the other day that if you sit for at least six hours a day (as I and pretty much anyone else who works at a desk does), the risk of dying early goes up 19 percent when compared with people who sit fewer than three hours.
So against my normal, don’t-believe-what-you-read-on-the-internet judgement, I decided to change things up a bit and temporarily switch my workstation from sitting on the couch with my laptop to pulling a tall stool up to my bar-height counter. I wanted to get a feel for the situation before poo-pooing it completely or dragging an exercise ball into my office at work.
The move alone made me feel temporarily better, like when you clean out a closet or skip dessert. It did little for my concentration, though. Sure, I moved around more – to shift my stance, to redistribute my weight, to peek around the corner to check the score of the baseball game – but no matter how I sliced it, typing was so much more difficult on two feet. I couldn’t focus, I was too distracted by the fact that I wasn’t sitting down.
Sadly, I’m back to butt-in-the-chair, and probably for good. No standing desk or exercise ball for me, sorry. But since I’m open to living longer and healthier, I’m looking into the latest trend in office furniture — the treadmill desk workstation. I figure they’re so expensive I’d be motivated to get lots of use out of it just because of the price.