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Keeping Things Moving

As an Automattician, I spend the vast majority of my time working from home. This has its advantages and disadvantages, like anything else, but I didn’t think of my physical activity (or lack thereof) in quite the right way until I saw this tweet from my colleague Beau:

http://twitter.com/#!/beaulebens/status/113780084149719040

For reasons that I plan to write about soon, I have been taking a long-overdue look at my habits throughout the day in an effort to improve them and their effects on my overall health. It’s no secret that it’s not a great thing for you to be sitting down all day long.

I know this because the best shape I’ve been in for the last 10 years or so was when I was working retail at Circuit City. Being on your feet for 10 hours at a stretch and walking a store floor will do that to you. Once I shifted to a desk job, I quickly ballooned to over 300 pounds until I hit a high of around 325 in the last couple of years.

(I have since dropped a good amount of weight but that will need to wait for that other post I was talking about.)

What I have been using for about the last year or so to keep myself from getting leg cramps is a little utility called AntiRSI. It sits in your dock (and with the newest version, can sit in your menu bar instead) and has a configurable set of controls for taking breaks.

The options are pretty straightforward:

I don’t use it for the micro breaks as I don’t have any issues with strain (yet) and they were interrupting my flow a bit. Instead, I use it to force myself to take an eight-minute break every 50 minutes (so about every hour). When the 50 minutes of work are up, this appears and won’t go away unless I dismiss it, which I try very hard not to do:

When that appears, I do exactly what it says. The important part is that I stand up when prompted for a work break and walk around a bit. I check on how the kids are doing in school, take a biobreak, refill my water, or any one of a number of things, but (a) don’t work and (2) stay standing and moving as much as possible. Sometimes I will set an eight minute timer on my iPhone and take a walk outside. I walk past the desk every so often to see if the break is up, and when it is I sit back down and get to it.

Now I read tonight that I might not be getting up enough. And it’s possible that using a standing desk (which I have considered) is getting up too much. This is of course only one source of information on this, and you can always find a study or paper that agrees with you, but:

Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes.  Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

You can read the original text here.

So maybe I will give 30 minute intervals with smaller breaks a shot and see how it goes for a while. I’m thinking 5 minutes’ break every 30 minutes or so.

Do you have a method that works for you? Something you do to stay active throughout the day? I would love to hear about it.

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Leave a comment:

  1. My exercise plan isn’t sophistcated. I begin my day by taking a brisk walk and I end my day by taking a casual stroll. Neither walk lasts for more than about 45 minutes round trip. Throughout the day I divide my work into chunks of time. I intersperse breaks where I get up and do about 20 minutes of yoga stretches outside on my deck, or some gardening, or I play with my dogs in our yard. In mid-afternoon when I’m feeling tired I put on music and I dance for 5 minutes. I sit on my deck and drink green tea before I resume my next chunk of work.

  2. I’ve been trying to use Anti RSI for a while but kept quitting and not relaunching it. For how long have you been using it? Are you happy with it?

    Back when I was on the PC, I used WorkRave, I liked that a lot. It has a plethora of options for configuring the breaks, postponing them or even suspending the whole thing, which I found to be simply necessary in some crunches. Then again, I’ve only tried the free version of AntiRSI, perhaps the new version has similar options.

    • I’ve been trying to use Anti RSI for a while but kept quitting and not relaunching it. For how long have you been using it? Are you happy with it?

      I’m pretty happy with it. The new paid version is unobtrusive sitting in the menu bar.

      I have found that even with the reminders it is still a matter of discipline. I can always postpone the next break or quit it completely, but I know that’s not good for me. Why didn’t you like it?

  3. I’ve been using 25 minutes on, five minutes off since this was written and it’s gone well. It took some getting used to but I find that I can postpone the break for a minute or two if I’m wrapping something up and then take it manually once I’m done—but as I mentioned above that takes some self-control.

    Now I need to conquer not taking breaks when recliner-working in the evening. Or maybe just doing that less.

  4. I have found that even with the reminders it is still a matter of discipline. I can always postpone the next break or quit it completely, but I know that’s not good for me. Why didn’t you like it?

    WorkRave had a “postpone” button and intervals that were easy to configure, as well as break types that I could turn off. I guess what I want is the computer to remind me to take breaks, because I forget. But once in a while I want to postpone a break, other times I want to dismiss (i.e. skip) a break entirely. I could do so with WorkRave, I couldn’t with the free Anti RSI.

    I suppose my use case will be solved by me purchasing the thing!

  5. Thanks for the tip on AntiRSI. I’m finding that the micro-breaks do get in the way, but I’m trying to convince myself that they’re not annoying and using them as an opportunity to close my eyes and take some deep breaths. That seems to help. :)