All play at work

My office would have an ocean view if I were taller.  That is the cold, hard truth of being a five-foot, two-inch tall person.  I work in a building that is on a cliff above the beautiful Pacific ocean, but my office is on the first floor, and what I see out my window is little berm of sand and plants that pile up along the edge of the cliff before it drops off down to the beach below.  One day, my friend’s husband walked into our office space and remarked, “Wow! Nice ocean view here!”  “Ha, ha, Andy. Mean joke. I wish we were on the second floor,” I replied.  Andy, six-foot-something, “I’m being serious.”  I looked at him, puzzled, for a quick second, and then I stood up on my desk chair and looked out the window.  Holy ish, I had an ocean view.  I had just never, ever realized before, because I was too short to see over a little pile of sand.

My office with the ocean view I never see is great for other reasons: it contains fun people, lots of surfboards, and something new: bouncy balls!

If you're wondering, my office houses three people, three desks, two blue bouncy-balls, and five surfboards.

I’ve recently made a transition from primarily working in the lab, which involves standing, walking, pipetting, and searching for things all day long, to analyzing data, which involves sitting in front of a computer all day long.  Recap: standing and walking for 10 hours a day vs. sitting for 10 hours a day.  I was so fidgety in my chair, it was difficult to focus on work.

Besides being restless at my desk, I had another concern.  I’ve been reading about how small but regular levels of activity through a person’s day add up to huge health benefits, and I was about to make the most unhealthy move to a chair.

Here is the deal with how moving around during the day helps you to:

Maintain healthy blood sugar levels: In a recent study from the University of Missouri, Healthy subjects who decreased their daily physical activity by about a third (from 13,000 steps per day to  4,300) metabolized their food differently.  When the subjects were active, their blood sugar remained relatively even after a meal, but when they reduced their activity, their blood sugar spiked after meals by 26% compared to before.  These types of blood sugar spikes are associated with increased risk of heart attack and death. Click here for the NYT write-up of the study.

Maintain a healthy weight: Tara Parker Pope sums it up in this great article.  Authors of a study that examined work-place activity since 1960 found that about 50% of jobs in the US required moderate physical activity.  Today, only 20% of jobs require the same level of activity.  The authors calculate that this change means American workers are burning 100 fewer calories a day.  Just a little simple math: 700 calories/week, 36,400 calories/year… If a pound of body fat is about 3,500 calories, then this is a difference in 10 pounds worth of calories per year that you are either burning away without worry at your job in 1960, or that you are desperately fighting off with 30-minute sessions on the eliptical because you sit at a desk all day in 2012.

So, enter the bouncy ball.  You know those things you use at the gym to do sit-ups and really awkward push-ups?  That thing is my new desk chair, and I can bounce away all day while I sit at the computer.  It’s fabulous.  I know I’m still much less active at work than I was a few months ago, but I figure it’s better than nothing.  Plus, it makes a great prop for office-olympics.  The down-side is that its much harder to stand on to spy the ocean-view.

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