PUMPING IRONY: Are Desk-Jockeys Doomed?

After WWII, my father found a job delivering beer to bars and restaurants and liquor stores in St. Paul. This involved schlepping a lot of heavy kegs and cases from his truck to coolers every day, an activity that, over the years, made him a pretty strong dude. I was thinking about that today, after… Read more »

After WWII, my father found a job delivering beer to bars and restaurants and liquor stores in St. Paul. This involved schlepping a lot of heavy kegs and cases from his truck to coolers every day, an activity that, over the years, made him a pretty strong dude. I was thinking about that today, after reading a piece in the NY Times that warned desk-bound office workers like myself that our comfy office chairs could be negating the benefits of our workout routines.

Here’s how Olivia Judson put it:

It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.”

Judson points to recent studies showing that, among healthy people, those who sit for fewer hours each day had slimmer waists and healthier levels of blood pressure and blood sugar than those who parked their butt longer. Why? Because certain molecules (lipoprotein lipase, for example) that play a primary role in helping the body process fat are only produced when your muscles are contracting.

Obviously, the more you move, the better, but if you buy Judson’s argument, then my father, who spent eight hours a day hauling Grain Belt Beer throughout St. Paul, should’ve been a lot healthier than his third son (that’s me), who hits the gym two or three times a week, but sits at a desk all day — and lounges in his favorite chair most evenings while catching up on the work he didn’t finish during the day or (sometimes) enjoying a good book. That, unfortunately for my dad, was not the case. He carried an extra 50 pounds around his waist and suffered two heart attacks before he was 51. Cancer claimed him at 60.

Now, I don’t claim to be a paragon of good health, but, at 58, I’ve managed to avoid all the health problems my dad had encountered — while spending the last 30-some years sitting at a desk. So, obviously, there are factors involved here that Judson’s choosing to ignore: small things like diet, stress management, smoking and other lifestyle choices. And that’s too bad, because when people read stuff like this, they tend to just give up on their exercise regimen. I mean, if sitting at a desk is what you do to make a living and you read that all that sitting basically renders any exercise program moot, what are you going to do — quit your job?

The fact is, regular exercise — along with a healthy diet and . . . well, you know the drill — has been shown in study after study to be the key to long-term vitality, no matter how many hours you log behind a desk each day. To suggest otherwise, it seems to me, is pretty irresponsible.

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