Working in Different Positions

I’ve been sitting in chairs of one kind or another for a lot of my life. Starting with school and then college – although at art college I also did a lot of kneeling on cold floors! And then at work – for the last sixteen years or so I’ve worked as a web developer, using computers and sitting in chairs for most of the day.

It’s left me overweight, unfit, and with a bad back.

I’ve been working hard to improve things. I’m eating better to lose weight, I’m getting regular exercise with gym workouts twice a week, and walking. I’m on a mission to lose weight and get fitter.

But, I am still working, and so I am still sitting, for a large part of the day.

And while getting regular exercise is a great start to improve health, it’s not enough. I need to move better more often throughout the day and that means trying to use different working positions to minimise the overall impact of each one.

Recently, “sitting” has become somewhat demonised in the media – “sitting is the new smoking”. Too much sitting has multiple negative impacts on our health, and as a result people are looking for alternatives to sitting for work. “Standing desks” have got a lot of interest as a way to work in a different position from sitting in a chair. And these are a great alternative as long as you don’t just end up standing all day!

It’s not just about sitting or standing, it’s about the negative effects of staying in single fixed positions for large parts of the day. Ideally we need to work in multiple positions throughout the day, moving around, sitting on different types of chairs, sitting on the floor in different ways, standing, squatting, lying down etc. to minimise the effects of staying in one or two positions all day.

But this is hard. At the moment I only really have two positions I can sit in comfortably to work:

1. The sofa

I use a laptop on a wooden tray on my lap. This isn’t ideal as I’m sitting in a soft chair and the position of my arms and neck are not ideal. But I currently don’t seem to be able to sit on any other type of chair without getting quite a lot of back discomfort quite quickly – this has been the case since I first pulled my back a few years ago.

2. A Swiss ball

I have an exercise ball at my desk. This is okay if I watch my posture, but I often find I’m slouching forward which is not good.

So I need to find more positions to work in.

I’ve just read Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman which I recommend to anyone who wants to improve their health, particularly home workers – the book points out that if we spend a lot of our time fixed in these positions, like sitting in chairs, we will end up with bodies adapted to doing those things – muscle lengths change, your joint flexibility changes, and then when we try to do other “non-sitting” activities which we don’t do very often, that’s when we run into trouble, we pull our backs, or find we just can’t do them.

I’m currently working through the second part of “Move Your DNA” – “Move”, which is a comprehensive set of stretches and exercises designed to bring back better flexibility and more natural movement ability to your body. I currently can’t touch my toes, or sit in a deep squat, and I hope to be able to do these things again, eventually, with the help of these exercises.

Hopefully as my flexibility improves I’ll be able to add an increasing number of working positions like standing, lying down, sitting on the floor, and maybe eventually even some squatting, but for now I just have to concentrate on doing the exercises regularly and taking regular breaks from sitting.

I try to get up at least ten minutes in every hour and I’ve been putting those short breaks to better use which is something I’ll write about soon.

I’ll post an update when I improve enough to add some of these new positions to my working day.

Myopia Experiment

It was computer work that made me realise that I needed glasses. While I was using Photoshop I couldn’t seem to get the screen sharp enough, I was always tinkering with the monitor settings. I went to the optician and left with a pair of glasses – I was short-sighted, myopic. That was about ten years ago.

Getting glasses was great, they brought back sharp vision to me, I haven’t had a problem with screen work since and I wear my glasses most of the time now. My prescription has increased slightly during the last ten years and now when I take my glasses off, pretty much everything is blurred. Really quite blurred.

Ten years ago my vision didn’t seem blurred all the time, just slightly when I was doing screen work. So has wearing glasses made my eyes worse?

If you look at Wikipedia you’ll find two “causes” listed for myopia or near-sightedness:

1. “Near work” hypothesis

The “near work” hypothesis, also referred to as the “use-abuse theory” states that spending time involved in near work strains the eyes and increases the risk of myopia. Some studies support the hypothesis while other studies do not. While an association is present it is unclear if it is causal.

2. “Visual stimuli” hypothesis

Although not mutually exclusive with the other hypotheses presented, the visual stimuli hypothesis adds another layer of mismatch to explain the modern prevalence of myopia. There is evidence that lack of normal visual stimuli causes improper development of the eyeball. In this case, “normal” refers to the environmental stimuli that the eyeball evolved for over hundreds of millions of years. These stimuli would include diverse natural environments—the ocean, the jungle, the forest, and the savannah plains, among other dynamic visually exciting environments. Modern humans who spend most of their time indoors, in dimly or fluorescently lit buildings are not giving their eyes the appropriate stimuli to which they had evolved and may contribute to the development of myopia.

These ideas make a lot of sense, particularly if you are a proponent of using your body “as designed” in order to keep it in good shape. This is exactly how I’ve been using my eyes.

Sitting close to a lit computer screen for up to eight hours a day, five days a week and living indoors in relatively small spaces with artificial lights has to have a dramatic impact on your eye sight. You’re not “exercising” your eyes in the way they would naturally be used. In a more ancestral environment we’d likely be outdoors a lot of the time, focusing on near and far distances all day. Indoors you rarely focus past about 20 foot, this must have an impact on your eyes.

And then on top of this I wear glasses so my eyes don’t have to focus as hard, my eye muscles and my brain have got used to having the extra help of my glasses lenses and no longer need to focus correctly at any distance.

I’d like to try to give my eyes back some of their natural ability. And as with moving better it’s going to require an improvement in eye use and in my behaviour. So this is what I’m going to do:

1. Take off my glasses as much as I can.

When I don’t “need” to wear my glasses I will take them off. This is really all the time except computer work, some reading, and driving. This will give my eyes a chance to re-learn to focus closer to a natural level.

2. Stay in natural light as much as possible

Even if it’s not fully bright, if I can see enough don’t automatically turn on the lights – saves on the electric too! Lower light is just another natural environment for eyes that we have all but eradicated from out lives. And personally I find it quite relaxing to minimize the artificial light.

3. Increase opportunites for longer focusing

Get out of the house more so I can have longer distances to focus on.

4. Add long focusing exercises into my breaks

I try to use my hourly work breaks for good stretching and exercise anyway so I’ll be adding in the odd five minute “take off glasses and focus on the distance eye workout” out of the attic window into my routine.

Why do I want to do this, aren’t glasses just fine?

For me it’s just part of a more natural approach to life. I’m happy to have glasses as they enable me to continue to work, but I would prefer to not have them and I do find it more comfortable to not wear them . I would also like to think that my lifestyle is maximising and even improving my eye health rather than slowly making it worse.

So I’m curious to see if my sight improves by wearing my glasses less and exercising my eyes more over time.

There was a recent Katy Says podcast episode all about this topic and Katy Bowman was talking about doing this kind of experiment and trying to measure the results, so that’s what I’m doing.

Every so often, probably once a week, I’ll measure the distance I can see up to without it becoming blurred, and track if there are any improvements…

Learn to Move Better

Move Your DNA

I’ve just finished reading “Move Your DNA” by Katy Bowman. It’s an excellent book and has really opened my eyes about the way I am moving (and not moving) during the day, and how my current “movement nutrition” needs some serious improvement.

I would definitely recommend it to anyone, but it’s particularly relevant for people like me, who are spending a lot of time sitting down working at a computer in a single fixed position for most of the day. I’ve added it to my Reading List page.

Katy Bowman explores the deceptively simple idea that your body adapts to what you do with it. Combine your genetic predisposition together with your movement patterns and you get the shaping of your body that you currently have, she then goes on to explain how you can “restore your health through natural movement”.

The book is split into two main sections “Think” and “Move”. “Think” explains all the concepts and science, and “Move” goes through a comprehensive series of stretches and exercises that can be used to help “release” your body from it’s current less than ideal state, and start heading towards some better movement practices. I’ll be spending some time slowly working through these exercises.

If you sit in a chair all day long, your leg muscles will over time adapt to that mainly seated situation, shortening and lengthening accordingly, and their usual range of extension will become different from someone who stands up all day, and different again from someone who does both of those things in balance.

Of course, this makes perfect sense, and on some levels it’s not very surprising. I realise that I have a bad back, I’m overweight, and unfit because I have sat in a chair working at a computer most days for 20 years, and not been active enough, but I never really thought about that in detail, and what part those movement habits have played in shaping my body, or why I can’t touch my toes, or how my myopia is probably a direct result of so much close screen work, and that maybe why I now have to wear glasses.

And it’s the extent of this shaping that is easy to underestimate I think. Every muscle, every ligament, even every cell, is shaped by how it is used. That’s how bodies work, feedback loops, use it or lose it!

And the solutions we come up with for “fixing” the problems that have arisen through these years of bad movement? – going down the gym for two hours a week to do a narrow range of repetitive “cardio” exercises while still sitting in chairs for the other thirty eight hours a week. It just isn’t going to cut it. It’ll take a bit more work than that.

In an ideal world I’d be able to spend most of my day working on reversing these bad movement habits to improve my health, I’d be outside and moving in many different ways for large chunks of the day. Unfortunately, I can’t spend all of my day working on good “movement nutrition” at the moment because of pesky things like work.

I am working towards freeing up some of my time so that I can move more, and even fit in the occasional longer hike. In the mean time anything I can do to maximise good movement through out the day is going to be helpful, and I’ll be exploring those ideas over the next few months.

So a great book. It’s changed the way I’m looking at my own movement, and it’s providing me with a method to start reversing the damage that my bad movement habits have led to.

I first heard about Katy Bowman when she was interviewed on Latest in Paleo 150. Her blog and Katy Says podcast have a lot more great information on her movement and health ideas.

The iPhone SE

Yesterday, Apple held their March 2016 “Loop You In” event. As expected they announced an updated 4″ iPhone, the iPhone SE.

Last month I laid out my thoughts about a new 4″ iPhone.

The SE exactly matches the rumours and essentially has the internals of a 6S in a 5S case but without 3D touch.

For new iPhone users I think this is great – an up to date 4″ iPhone pretty much on par with the latest larger models. If I was buying my first iPhone this is the one I’d get. But for me I’m not sure it’s enough.

My 5S is two and a half years old now, but it still runs the latest version of iOS and I never notice it being slow or “laggy” in any way. I’m out of contract, fully paid up, and now only paying £12 a month for everything I need calls and data wise on 4G.

If I were to upgrade to the SE and keep my current monthly payments it would cost me £439 up front. That’s for the 64GB model which is the same size as my current 5S. I don’t know what the monthly cost would be without an up front payment yet as the carriers haven’t published their tariffs, but I can guarantee it would be quite a lot more than the £12 I’m currently paying!

So what would I get for my £439?

  • A better camera: that would be nice, but I don’t tend to find the camera on the 5S lacking.
  • Live photos: again, great, but I think I can live without them.
  • Apple Pay: I don’t think I’d use Apple Pay. In the UK we already have contactless cards and I only tend to use one so it would be overkill for me to go through the complexities of using Apple Pay!
  • Same design: From the outside the SE looks exactly the same as my 5S – unless I got the rose gold which wouldn’t be my cup of tea.

So I’d get a better camera and the faster chip which would also give me the live photos and a couple of other minor improvements.

It’s just not enough for me to spend £439.

Unfortunately, my 5S is still too good and the SE does not offer enough for that kind of extra outlay. In the US the monthly contracts and upfront phone costs are perhaps cheaper than here in the UK so maybe it would be financially more attractive there.

If Apple had updated the screen with 3D Touch and updated the design so it looked significantly different from the 5S, even just with different colours, I might have been swayed, but I often have these problems with Apple products – they tend to last me a quite a while. So it looks like I’ll be using my 5S for a while longer, perhaps until it no longer gets the iOS updates, until it’s no longer “in the loop”!

Let’s see if there is a fully folded into the lineup 4″ model in the iPhone 7 range later in the year, doubtful, but you never know…

Cutting Out Sugar In Coffee

Measuring Spoons

I drink quite a lot of coffee, mostly decaf these days. On average I drink around 7 or 8 cups a day, and I still have sugar in them – not a lot, just half a small sugar spoon’s worth but it adds up over the day… week… year…

I’m trying to cut refined sugar out of my diet completely and this is pretty much the last area I need to get rid of.

I’ve been reducing it down each week, and that’s how I’m now at 1/2 a small spoonful but it’s hard to remember to only have “a little bit” and I often have slightly more in the evening to make it a little bit sweeter when my defences are down! I’m not managing to cut it out completely, coffee isn’t yet a pleasant experience for me with no sugar at all.

So I’ve devised a slightly more scientific plan to reduce it to zero over the next few weeks. I’ve bought a set of fun measuring spoons. The measurements are called a “Tad”, “Dash”, “Pinch”, “Smidgen”, and “Drop”! And according to the comments on Amazon they are roughly equivalent to:

Tad = 1/4 tsp
Dash = 1/8 tsp
Pinch = 1/16 tsp
Smidgen = 1/32 tsp
Drop = 1/64 tsp

So I’ll see if I can manage with just a “Tad” for the first week, then I’ll try moving down to a “Dash” and so on! And there will be no way to add “just a bit more” unless I actually add a second spoonful.

I’ll let you know if it works.