My two cents on getting a workout while sitting at the computer

As someone who spends 12+ hours a day sitting at a computer, reading this in the NYTimes this afternoon put a frown on my face:

Regular workout sessions do not appear to fully undo the effects of prolonged sitting. ‘‘There seem to be different pathways’’ involved in the beneficial physiological effects of exercising and the deleterious impacts of sitting, says Tatiana Warren, a graduate student in exercise science at the University of South Carolina and the lead author of the study of men who sat too much. ‘‘One does not undo the other,’’ she says.

[from Phys Ed: The Men Who Stare at Screens - Well Blog - via Christopher Wink on Twitter.]

Although the study referenced in the article above specifically pertains to men, I wouldn't doubt that the effects are similar for women too (but hey, I'm just guessing).

As a way of "ameliorating the dangers of inactivity", the blog posts quotes Tatiana Warren, a graduate student in exercise science at the University of South Carolina and lead author of the study:

‘‘Look for ways to decrease physical inactivity,’’ Ms. Warren says, beyond 30-minute bouts of jogging or structured exercise. Stand up. Pace around your office. Get off the couch and grab a mop or change a light bulb the next time you watch ‘‘Dancing With the Stars.’’

Ms. Warren, I know you're the expert here, but that sounds like terribly ineffective advice to me. It's also advice tailored more toward people who watch TV than people who sit at their laptops all day, and the latter is probably more common and widespread, at least amongst my circles.

Here's my take (as a person who spends way too much time sitting) on how I've been able to lose some of the extra pounds I've put on since graduating from college:

  1. Invest in an fitness ball to replace your chair. This isn't uniquely my idea. Tech Guy Leo Laporte has used a ball for years. All the guys in the Social Vibe office (where I sometimes work when I don't work from home), do the same. Supposedly, sitting on one of these exercise balls all day burns about 350 calories, and has tons of other benefits like helping you build your core muscles (abs), helps with spine alignment (so you can say bye to your terrible, hunched-over-the-laptop posture), and strengthens your balance.
  2. Keep lightweight dumbbells at your desk. There will be moments of your day when you're sitting at your computer reading instead of typing. Your hands will be free, and if you see your weights sitting there, pick 'em up and give 'em a whirl. I have four-pound weights that I lift during morning conference calls and while reading my Google Reader. It also helps you maintain good information management if you set aside 10 minutes every few hours to read blog posts and lift weights -- exercise both your mind and your body.
  3. Stand sometimes. Whether this means siting your laptop at a tall kitchen counter if you work from home or buying a standing desk if you go into an office, have a place where you can work where you'll be forced to stand up for a while. I have a tall kitchen nook that I stand at for a few hours a day. Life Hacker has advice on making a stand up desk for $20.

I don't have any answers for burning calories while driving, which is especially relevant to Angelenos like myself who spend way too many hours in the car. But because I'd imagine any kind of car workout would probably be a safety hazard, I'll refrain from asking for your suggestions.