We’ve all heard it, sitting is the new smoking and while exercise is indeed good for you, it does not seem to counteract the negative effects of prolonged periods of sitting down.

We all sit way more than we should. In a study of the Jamaican traditional rural lifestyle, Dr James A. Levine & Professor Terrence Forrester measured the sitting rate of agricultural workers. On any given day they sat down for around 3 hours. When the same people relocated to the capital city, Kingston, their sitting time doubled. In the western world, we spend, on average, 13 hours sitting down every day.

Sitting in the digital era

There are plenty of studies showing that sitting in front of a screen is bad for you. According to Gavin Bradley, director of Active Working, “Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting”. With sitting being such a problem, many people are switching to standing desks. But they may not be the solution either, as standing while working tends to have a negative effect on problem solving skills, not to mention varicose veins, knee pain and other standing related health problems.

To make matters worse, prolonged exposure to screens causes eye strain. Keyboard and mouse usage can cause Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)… In a nutshell, we’re not designed to sit in front of a computer.

Fortunately, all the issues associated with sitting in front of a screen are caused by prolonged exposure, and so frequent breaks can mitigate a lot of the potential damage. To reactivate the metabolism, Alan Hedge, a design and ergonomics professor at Cornell University, recommends “a two-minute moving break at least twice an hour to stretch or walk around”. You can rest your eyes using Rosenfield’s 20-20-20 rule ‘Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds’. Frequent breaks are also recommended to prevent and recover from RSI.

Non disruptive breaks

To assist yourself in taking breaks from sitting, download a timer that you can set to ring every 20 minutes and that resets automatically if you go afk for more than a few minutes. When it rings, walk around, look outside or at a distant object for a minute or two. Micro breaks like this don’t allow distractions to take your thoughts off your work.

Using this system, you can help prevent issues associated with sitting, typing or screen usage while remaining highly focused.

That’s it for today, next post will talk about the ultimate work rest cycle.