It’s established that long periods of sitting (like the kind writers and editors do) adversely affects metabolic health and increases risk for cardiovascular problems, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health concerns, like breast and colon cancer.
Recent science shows that even vigorous exercise doesn’t completely offset long periods of sitting. Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher, told the New York Times that sitting causes electrical activity in the muscles to “go as silent as those of a dead horse.”
And now comes evidence that sitting is making us dumber, too. Or, at least, less smart.
The headline finding of a recent study was that the “working memory performance” improved when participants were allowed to walk at their own speed compared to when they were sitting.
This doesn’t exactly surprise me. When I read about Al Roker’s treadmill desk/walkstation a few years back, intuitively I thought it was a good idea — besides the calorie burning. It makes sense that walking, slightly elevating one's metabolic rate, would make a person more alert. How many of us fall asleep while sitting or reading a book, for example? How many fall asleep walking? Not as many.
Not that I could walk eight hours a day.
Previously it was believed that a dual-task, like walking and reading, inevitable leads to a decreased attention span because human beings have limited pools of resources. But since those are separate resource pools, according to the new research, “an arousal or activation…has beneﬁcial consequences for the performance of the secondary cognitive task, at least as long as the exercise intensity is not approaching the individual’s maximum capacity.” In other words, "Walk, don’t run" in place at work.
Coincidentally, other research has shown that prolonged disengagement from one’s desk helps stimulate creative thinking.
My translation of all this recent data? I need two desks at work — the one I’ve got and an Al Roker-like walkstation. Plus time for a long bike ride or swim at lunch.