Some years ago, the term “sitting disease” caught the eye of the corporate world and quickly became etched into irritating workplace speak. Everyone was an expert. People luxuriated in the sound of their own voices as they shamed their colleagues, “You know Carol, if you sit too much, you’ll end up with Sitting Disease.” The people that cast such curses were usually on their way out for a cigarette leaving Carol to answer the phone. I guess in their defence, the smokers at least made themselves a moving target for sitting disease.
Incessant sitting became an agenda item at team meetings. Managers addressed the issue in all-staff emails alongside instructions for operating the kitchen hot tap, not drinking the cleaning chemicals, and how to use the elevator (I really wish I was joking). You know, the kind of childlike basics I would never have accomplished without their assistance.
One overstimulating day, we were “asked” to attend a mandatory workplace health and safety briefing. At said briefing, an excitable safety employee spent the next hour justifying their wages by skipping about pushing chair levers up and down showing us how to work ergonomically. Knowing full well management were never going to unshackle us from our desks, I thought the recommendation to get up every hour for a walk rather amusing.
The session ended with stretching techniques using a rubber garter, or as the fitness boffins call them, resistance bands (I’m surprised anything labelled “resistance” was permitted in the building). Never one to disappoint, the company cut costs by severing the bands into much smaller pieces so all it could really stretch was my emotional limit.
I think my workplace truly cared about my spinal welfare, but given I had to sign something saying I attended the bend and snap session, I think I’m safe in presuming they just didn’t want me to sue. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother suing given others before me had so bravely demonstrated how you can get years off work at full pay by simply changing clock batteries…(I guess that’s a story for another day)
On reflection, a lot has changed. I now work from home in an aerated office with natural light. I don’t receive emails riddled with grammatical errors telling me how to muddle my way through life. I don’t have phones that must be answered within 3 rings, in fact you’d be hard pressed to get me to answer my phone at all these days. There’s no safety department so if I fall over, I can blame no one but myself. I can take as many breaks as I like and go to the toilet without a GPS tracker attached to my ankle.
But some things have not changed. I still work at a desk, susceptible to sitting disease. I still hunch over while I work. I still forget to take breaks. When I eventually do take a break, it culminates in a 3 hour all-you-can-eat buffet at the fridge.
As I’m on a fairly smart decline to 40 all these bad habits can make for a rather flabby mid-section. Today I share a few of the strategies I incorporate into my daily routine as an artist in the hopes I can also help you halt the ravages of a life spent slouching. So grab your leotard and let’s squeeze those peaches!
(Disclaimer: I am not a fitness professional and you really should consult your physician before starting any fitness regime. If that all sounds too taxing, continue as you were. They were named love handles for a reason!)
Obviously, we need to tackle the biggest problem which is sitting for long periods at a desk or easel. The solution is to find something that makes you get up regularly.
For me, if there is one thing I cannot tolerate for very long, it’s a blunt pencil. I have positioned my sharpener on the other side of the room, as I find it’s the best way to force myself to get up regularly and stretch my legs.
But be warned, try as we might, sometimes our body prefers to conserve energy. Our mind will tell us things like,
“You don’t need your pencil THAT sharp. The rough drawing texture from this blunt pencil just looks so fantastic on this newborn’s face. Let’s keep going.”
“No don’t get up. We’ll just use this sharp brown pencil to colour in the sky. No one will notice.”
Routinely I sit hunched over my drawings as though I am inspecting smuggled diamonds under a microscope. All of this poor posture and close up work strains my neck and back as well as my eyeballs. Thankfully my studio is fitted with windows, so while I’m sharpening away curing my sitting disease, I relieve my eye strain by gawking at the neighbourhood goings on.
Sadly I don’t have anything overly ominous to report. It’s mostly workers tearing away from the construction site across the road at a hyperspace speed of 70km, followed 2 seconds later by screeching brakes as they hit the intersection. Oh and there’s the overweight topless man that goes around on bin day pilfering plastics from our recycling, or at least I think that’s what he’s doing in the bin.
Fitness experts will tell you that high intensity interval blast (HIIT) training is great for cardio health. It consists of short bursts of exercise followed by rest. But how on earth does one get this type of training as an artist?
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know my studio assistant Hazel, is a frequent visitor around these parts. Unfortunately, she is famed for wanting to cuddle on top of my drawings. Under no circumstances is she allowed direct contact with my drawings, so I only have 3 heart pounding seconds, from first locking eyes to the jubilant descent of the Goodyear blimp, with which to whip out a suitable covering.
This frantic flailing of arms spikes my heart rate and burns calories.
Although, I’m considering sending an all-staff email of my own reminding her of personal space in an open plan office.
So far, my suggestions have excelled at burning the calorie equivalent of a squirt of tomato sauce, but they have done nothing for muscular strength.
The only way I have found to achieve any sort of strength or resistance training is by using the “king of all exercises”, the squat. I place a large sheet of paper on the floor, get an extremely sharp knife, then squat into a precarious position to cut the paper into smaller sizes.
I gain a cardio boost and improve dexterity when my studio assistant hurtles toward me out of nowhere and I have to scramble to avoid slicing myself into ribbons. Sure, I could try to cut the paper on my desk, but then I wouldn’t “feel the burn” in my thighs.
One of my biggest challenges is hand strain from the repetitive fine motor skills of drawing. After a long week it generally gets to the point where I can’t really keep going because of the hand cramps.
I have a few solutions. Firstly, one I’ve mentioned before and that is to switch between graphite and colour pencil, graphite being the easier of the two on my hands.
Another way is to work on the business side of things i.e. writing nonsensical blog posts, creating overly cinematic time-lapse videos for my YouTube channel, adjusting the lighting on my poorly captured images for my website shop and instagram account.
But my favourite solution involves my studio assistant who is well practiced at taking regular breaks. She willingly sacrifices her fluffy parts for me to bend and stretch my hand muscles.
Well I’m feeling slimmer already! But I don’t want to waste away so I’m off to chow down on some dinner.
Do you have any suggestions on how to keep limber at a desk job? Does it involve easy stuff like drinking the cleaning chemicals? Let me know!
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