The Simplest Way to Mitigate the Truly Horrifying Effects of Your Desk Job

Rachel Krause

The jury’s out on who created humans, but what we do know for certain is that the human body simply was not built to stay seated for extended periods of time. Sedentary behavior, the technical term for sitting on your ass regardless of whether it’s at your desk (productive!) or in front of the TV (not so much!), can raise your risk of heart disease up to 64-percent. It can rob you of six years of quality life. It can make you more susceptible to certain types of cancer. Your metabolism slows down. You lose bone mass. Your bad cholesterol goes up. Your blood sugar levels do, too.

Sitting, aka the new smoking, is killing us all, and the worst part is that for most of us, it’s unavoidable. A standard 9-5 desk job translates to eight hours of sedentary time, five days a week—and not even the daily recommended 30-50 minutes of vigorous exercise can undo the damage. It doesn’t matter if you spent two hours doing vinyasa after work (why are those classes always so long?); it’s just not enough to offset the physical risks. The only way to avoid the negative effects of sitting all day is to not sit all day in the first place.

Rewind: I’m not saying you should quit your job and become a kitesurfing teacher (not that you shouldn’t, if that’s what you want for yourself), or that you should take full advantage of the hour-long lunch break mandated in your work contract that you usually spend doing… well, more work. You don’t even have to give up on your dreams of watching all three original seasons of “Arrested Development” in one weekend. You just have to stand up once in a while. (Fidgeting helps, too.)

It’s so, so easy to get so wrapped up in your day to day that you forget to eat or pee, let alone step away from the computer every half an hour to stretch your legs, crack your neck, touch your toes, etc. etc. Even when you tell yourself you’re going to. Even when you know it may mean the difference between life and death (eventually, probably not right now). Even when you’re convinced that your butt composition has changed for the worse since you started working for the internet (seriously, I swear this is happening to me). So set an alarm.

MORE: ONE Minute of Intense Exercise May Be All You Need

More specifically, set an alarm you cannot ignore. Not the gentle hum of your iPhone vibrating on your desk, an occurrence quickly dismissed by a single touchscreen swipe, but something that’ll really get you out of the spinning chair and at least into the other side of the office to, like, refill a water bottle or something. Cut the technology umbilical cord with even more technology: an app, like my personal favorite, StandApp, which will remind you that you’re a human alive in this world who needs to stand up and use their body from time to time. Groundbreaking!

I am of the mind that anyone and everyone who works at a computer full-time should equip themselves with one of these reminders. I’m partial to StandApp because you can set custom alarms in addition to intervals, which means it will always force me to drag myself out of my 3:30 PM I-am-one-with-the-MacBook bell jar, and because it shows you some easy, safe-for-work exercises that you can do to occupy yourself if you want. I also use Time Out because it pops up on the computer screen, rendering you helpless in ignoring it. It dims your screen for as long as you want, as frequently as you want, and can play some soothing music or show a cool picture or something if you tell it to. Set it to show you some eye exercises, so you don’t go blind in addition to getting heart disease. (These are all worst-case scenarios.)

It might seem ridiculous that one would need an entire app to remind you to do something as simple and deeply ingrained as standing up, or embarrassing to get up from your desk to do leg stretches in the vicinity of your coworkers. I get it. But if that’s something you’re worried about, consider this: What could be more embarrassing than suffering the adverse health effects of sitting down too much?

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