Dr James Levine is widely considered to be one the world’s leading experts on obesity – he was recently named co-director of an initiative sponsored by the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University, investigating new ways to tackle obesity. For well over 10 years, he’s been researching a concept called NEAT – Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which is the energy we use doing everything that isn’t sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. Obviously, this is a wide range of possible tasks, and that’s kind of the point. Dr Levine’s theory is that a large portion of the energy we use is in micro-movements, twiddling your fingers, twitching your leg, or shuffling from foot to foot. He’s found that the difference between someone who easily loses weight and someone who struggles can be as simple as the amount of movements they make during the day.
So, what does this have to do with tread-desking? Through Dr Levine’s experiments, he’s found that sitting for long periods of time actually puts your muscles into a sleep state where you only burn about 1 calorie per minute, about a third of what they your muscles would burn with light activity. Not only that, this behaviour can’t be prevented by going to the gym a few times a week, your muscles will naturally try to conserve energy when they’re not being used. For me, given I can spend upwards of 12 hours a day in front of the computer, the difference between sitting and moving adds up to a significant amount of energy. By strolling at a casual pace periodically during the day, I help to keep my muscles awake and my body in good condition.
Of course, Dr Levine isn’t the only person studying the effects of sitting in our modern life. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at the television watching habits of about 9000 Australians. Once allowing for variables (height, weight, age, gender, fitness, etc) the study concluded that for every extra hour of television watched per day, the person’s risk of death increased by 11% above the standard mortality rate.
The health benefits of avoiding sitting aren’t the only reason that I tread-desk, though. I find it helps me think through problems easier, I’m less likely to distract myself, and the day even seems to go by faster. You know that drowsiness that always comes mid-afternoon? You’ve had some lunch, you sit down at your desk, and you feel like having a snooze. I haven’t had it once since taking up tread-desking.
So there you have it. Improved health, productivity and sanity, just by keeping my body moving during the day. I’m certainly not going to claim it as a magical cure all, but I find my quality of life improved significantly through tread-desking.