Fire Your Chair

We have all heard that sitting for extended periods of time isn’t good for you.  Actually it’s pretty bad, and unfortunately it’s what we do most these days, averaging about 9.3 hours a day of sitting, as compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping (HarvardBusinessReview).

Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, confirmed the harmful metabolic effects of sitting. “As you sit, electrical activity in the muscles drops — ‘the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,’ Hamilton says.  Your calorie-burning rate plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  So does the risk of being obese.” (

But this doesn’t really apply to you, right? You are young, fit and exercise regularly….Unfortunately, the truth is that being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym and whether you are overweight or in marathon-running shape.   (Check out this study published in Diabetologia, a journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes).  I know that this is pretty depressing news, but facing the risks of a sedentary lifestyle might inspire you to make some changes.

For example, standing desks, Trekdesks, and recumbant bikes are being incorporated into work spaces at companies like Google (of course) …and they are in good company: Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were said to have used stand-up desks.

Nilofer Merchant, a corporate director at a NASDAQ-traded firm and a lecturer at Stanford, has found another solution to the problem of balancing work and health.

4 years ago, rather than head to a coffee shop or conference room, she invited the people she was meeting to go walking with her…and she has been holding ‘Walking Meetings’ ever since. She now averages about 4 walking meetings/week in rain, sun and snow.  Getting more exercise has improved her health, but she has also noticed some unanticipated benefits:

“First, I can actually listen better when I am walking next to someone than when I’m across from them in some coffee shop. There’s something about being side-by-side that puts the problem or ideas before us, and us working on it together.  Second, the simple act of moving also means the mobile device mostly stays put away. Undivided attention is perhaps today’s scarcest resource, and hiking meetings allow me to invest that resource very differently.  And, finally we almost always end the hike joyful. The number one thing I’ve heard people say (especially if they’ve resisted this kind of meeting in the past) is “That was the most creative time I’ve had in a long time” And that could be because we’re outside, or a result of walking. “(HarvardBusinessReview)

If you aren’t sure how you could apply this to your own work schedule, take some cues from the innovators at 21 Lobster Street.  They provide a nice framework for group walking meetings that help keep them focused and productive. In a nutshell:

1) Start with a flipchart to collect the topics that the group wants to discuss.

2) Go walking.  Subgroups naturally form as you move along…there is no process or leader.

Example: ’I walk next to you and I know that you’re interested in the topic ‘international’. I know that Peter is also interested in that topic so I ask him if he wants to walk for a while with us and we discuss in our small group the topic ‘international’. Some people can walk with us but go after 5 minutes to another group because they are not really interested in the topic.

3) Regroup at the starting location to record decisions on the flipchart.  Take a picture – that’s your report.

For more tips and details, you can visit their website.  But you get the picture…and you can tailor this to fit your own needs and style. The main goal is to mix it up a little, get out of our chairs, and take care of our health.





  1. I love the ideas of walks for meetings! We should be encouraging each other to get up and move and live healthier lifestyles in general. Would be so much better to see more companies taking the initiative to get employees moving. I remember having my first desk job, and I would be standing or moving around in my little cubicle because I just can not sit still. I had to much energy, and it kept me focused on my deadlines more moving than sitting still. If I sat still I started dozing at my desk.

  2. For those of us with ‘office’ jobs, sitting at a computer all day is the norm and generally unavoidable (lucky for me the printer is at the other end of the office). So the challange is to stay active in the hours you are not at the office. Your couch is the enemy….

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