Most people sit more than they walk, and have the neck and back pain to prove it. Some people have found a way of combining working at a computer with walking, and are receiving the mental and physical benefits that go along with increased physical activity.

Before I explain how that works, let’s take a journey back in time, way back to the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Hunter-gatherers had the fitness level of today’s Olympic decathletes, and they walked, on average, ten miles a day. Yet we are told that we are getting an adequate amount of exercise by walking 30 minutes three times a week. Since we and our hunter-gatherer ancestors have virtually the same genetic make-up, is it reasonable to assume that we have evolved to function at our best when we move around a lot more than 90 minutes a week?

Answers from chiropractic, anthropology, education, and obesity research lead us to believe that the answer is a resounding “yes!”

One critical piece of information to bear in mind is that the sole purpose of half your spinal cord is to carry messages to your brain about your body’s movement and position in space. These signals go directly to the cerebellum, the part of your brain that manages coordination and balance. But it turns out that the cerebellum is responsible for much, much more. It is the coordination center for your mood and emotions, learning ability and intelligence, and the function of your internal organs. Without adequate movement stimulation, your brain and the rest of your body simply cannot function at their best.

Going back in time again, we come to the development of agriculture. While this created a leisure class, most people were still physically active all day long. Even with the Industrial Revolution very few people had the luxury of being sedentary. But then along came the Information Age. To succeed in this era, children sit for six hours a day in school (not to mention the additional hours spent sitting while watching TV or playing video games). At the end of 16 years or more of schooling/sitting, if you’re lucky you get to go to work in an office and park yourself in front of a computer. Before you know it, you are sitting most of the time.

All this sitting created the field of ergonomics. I like to think of ergonomics as the study of how to fit a round peg into a square hole. We’re not supposed to be sitting all day long, but by golly we have to earn a living, so we’d better make it work. Here, then, are the Five Stages in the Evolution of Ergonomics:

Stage One-Proper Sitting: Ignoring the importance of movement, researchers figured out the best angles for placing your hands on the keyboard, for positioning your buttocks on the chair, your feet on the floor, and the direction of your gaze. All well and good, but you’re still static, and not getting adequate movement stimulation from your spinal cord to your brain.

Stage Two-Kneeling: Sitting on a flat-bottomed chair was replaced with kneeling on a tilted chair. The idea was to support normal spinal curves, and as important as that is, we are still stuck with the problem of lack of movement stimulation to the brain–probably even more so than when sitting in a regular chair, because one’s legs were tucked behind the knee pad, and it was a lot easier to wheel the chair around than get up and walk to the file cabinet.

Stage Three-Bouncing: Eventually we awoke to the fact that all this sitting was indeed limiting the continuous and vital flood of movement stimulation, and we started sitting on balls. Research done in the classroom has shown that children, especially those with behavior problems, are better able to cope with the demands of school work while sitting at their desks on a ball, so bouncing is clearly a step in the right direction.

Stage Four-Standing: Standing was the next logical step, and some people have purchased computer desks that raise and lower so that they can alternate sitting and standing throughout the work day. I myself am typing this article while standing at my computer. This allows me to move freely about to look something up in a file, refresh my water glass, do some stretches while waiting for a web page to load, or even put on some music and dance while I’m typing.

Stage Five-Walking: If standing is better, why not walk? Researchers at the Mayo Clinic’s NEAT Lab (NEAT stands for “non-exercise activity thermogenesis”) began by studying obesity. It turns out (no surprise here) that obesity is linked to the degree of movement a person does each day outside of “exercise.” The lab’s motto is “Get up!” To facilitate an increase in NEAT, they have devised computer stations built around treadmills, a conference room without chairs, and a marked path around the lab for one-on-one meetings. A friend recently purchased a treadmill and built a stand for his monitor and keyboard around the treadmill. Now, by setting the treadmill at an easy pace of one mile per hour, he finds that he is walking three or four extra miles a day, all while he’s working.

It is clear from these five stages that by availing yourself of the latest innovations in ergonomics you can keep your paycheck while approximating the activity level (and related mental and physical benefits) of your hunter-gatherer ancestors. As they say at the NEAT Lab, “Get up!”

Source by Dr. Connie Amundson, D.C.