The Sedentary Situation

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At this point in the series, you know how much I dislike the corporate engineering environment. Between the clueless managers and the unfulfilling work, there was very little I could do to improve my quality of life. Fortunately, most of that really only affected my mental health which I could treat easily with some proper work-life balance. However, there was one thing that really affected my physical health which I’ve deemed the sedentary situation.

The sedentary situation is a corporate culture phenomenon in which work takes priority over health. In other words, corporate culture ensures people don’t get the exercise they need by keeping them bound to a chair at least 8 hours a day. Obviously, this has some pretty severe health implications which I’ll talk about throughout this article.

Table of Contents

The Corporate 15

When I was in college, I walked to class every day – rain or shine, snow or sleet. It wasn’t always enjoyable, but it was how I stayed active. As someone who was used to that level of regular activity, the transition into engineering was hard. I went from nearly 9,500 steps a day to about 7,500. Just take a look at my Fitbit logs:

Keep in mind that I finished school in May of 2016 and started work in the middle of July of 2016. I think the impact is pretty obvious. Now, that might not seem like a significant difference, but think about it. That equates to about a 20% reduction in activity in a year or about 730,000 fewer steps. To put that into perspective, I could have walked to Memphis from Atlanta with that many steps.

If that’s not enough evidence, the lack of exercise resulted in me gaining about 15 pounds in a matter of months. Again, here’s a Fitbit chart to prove it:

Weight Trends 2016 to 2018

I started taking my weight in March of 2016 when I was about 170 pounds. I believe I hit my lowest weight that summer. However, pretty much the moment I jumped into the corporate environment, I started gaining weight. By the end of 2017, I was almost 190 pounds.

So, I struggle a bit with this corporate culture. Sure, I could’ve made an effort to exercise regularly, but I often felt too burnt out or tired in the evenings. Instead, I chose to unwind in front of another computer in the same position I was in all day. Of course, the cycle always continues.

The Adverse Health Effects

It’s no secret that sitting all day is bad for our health, yet about 86% of Americans do it five days a week. But, what does that really mean for our health. Take a look at this video:

According to an infographic by Medical Billing and Coding, we spend an average of 9.3 hours a day sitting which is more than the 7.7 hours we spend sleeping. While that might not seem so bad since almost everyone is doing it, it actually has some major health impacts.

For instance, sitting more than 6 hours a day gives us a 40% greater chance of dying in the next 15 years than our more active counterparts. The cause of death is likely linked to obesity as obese people tend to sit 2.5 hours more a day than thin people.

But why is sitting so bad? It’s likely related to the energy required to sit. In fact, chewing gum actually takes more energy than sitting. That’s because electrical activity in our legs stops as soon as we take a seat. After two hours of remaining sedentary, our good cholesterol drops 20%.

Overall, sitting jobs give us double the likelihood of cardiovascular disease than standing jobs. So, how do we survive?

Take a stand. Literally.

However, standing isn’t enough. It’s important to get regular activity by walking and exercising. In addition, it’s important to limit sitting at home as well. Just three hours of TV a day is enough to increase the likelihood of dying of heart disease by 64%. At that point, exercise isn’t even helpful.

But Don’t Take My Word for It

Before anyone goes on a tirade over my poor interpretation of statistics, I’d like to recommend the Better Life Lab podcast. At this time, the podcast is just in its infancy, but it’s brought a ton of value to my life in terms of health.

Currently, I’ve only listened to the “Your Work May Be Killing You” episode, but it’s great for anyone who thinks their desk job might be hurting them. As it turns out, many of the environments people work in are just as deadly as secondhand smoke.

If seeing my personal health over the last two years isn’t enough to convince you that staring at a screen 10 hours a day is bad for your health, perhaps this podcast can do it. Oh, and they cover all kinds of jobs—not just soul-crushing desk jobs.

Taking a Stand

For me, the sedentary lifestyle was a deal breaker. I didn’t need to see all those statistics to know that the cubicle life was terrible for my health, both physical and mental. Like I said, I got the freshman 15 immediately after I finished college. No thanks.

So what did I do to cope? Well, for a while I made sure to bring a water bottle. That did two very important things for me. First, the water bottle allowed me to get up and walk all the way across the office every time it was empty. In addition, the water from that bottle filled my bladder which then allowed me to get up regularly to use the restroom.

Unfortunately, my job often required heavy periods of concentration, so getting up was detrimental to my productivity. But, if you read my article on cubicles, then you know that my concentration was minimal regardless. I figured this environment was just bad all around, and there was nothing I could do to improve it.

So, I ultimately decided to quit my job to pursue a more active lifestyle. I don’t care if my income is a fraction of what it was then. Money means nothing without a decent quality of life.

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