Self-experimentation: Workout edition


Some people don't use soap. Other people eschew alarm clocks or cooking utensils. Over on the Obesity Panacea blog, Peter Janiszewski recently decided to give up the 21st century sedentary lifestyle.

That may not seem like a big deal, especially to those of us who exercise regularly, enjoy going for walks, and are, generally, not complete couch-potatoes. But, Janiszewski, who has a PhD in clinical exercise physiology, says that recent research is showing that even someone who visits the gym every day can still be living a sedentary life, especially if their job requires them to sit at a desk for hours every day. If you spend most of the day seated, he says, you could still end up with some negative health impacts, even if you do exercise in the morning. That describes me pretty well. And it described Janiszewski, too.

What did I do?

Essentially, I decided (completely arbitrarily) that I would do mini exercise breaks throughout my workday, with the daily goal of reaching 450 repetitions of whatever random movement popped into my head at each break.

When I first started - some 3 weeks ago now, I would do 3 different exercises per break for 30 repetitions per exercise. I would thus need to have 5 mini exercise breaks throughout the day to get to 450 total repetitions.

My 'equipment' consists of a floor mat, a 10lb medicine ball, 2 10 L plastic water jugs, stairs, and a lot of randomness. If nothing else, this new approach has certainly made me more creative with my exercises. My only rule thus far is that I never do the same exercise more than once on a given day - which means I need at least 15 different exercises. Also, I try and balance with a 1:1:1 ratio exercises that focus on upperbody: core: lower body, though I aim for full-body movements when possible.

Janiszewski hasn't been at this experiment for very long, but he says he'll be posting updates. In the meantime, you can read the five-part series his blogging partner Travis Saunders wrote about the health impacts of sedentary lifestyles:

•Part 1: Not just the lack of physical activity
•Part 2: Can sitting too much kill you?

•Part 3: The importance of interruptions in sedentary time

•Part 4: How does sitting increase health risk?

•Part 5: Future directions

Mark also recently posted about a different article Travis Saunders wrote on this same subject.

Image: Not my desk. That's way too clean. Instead, it belongs to and was photographed by Flickr user jimw. Used via CC


  1. I try to go for a good walk every now and then, but yeah, I’m sitting for a cumulative 9 hours a day, normally. As I work in a bullpen-style environment it doesn’t work very well to start randomly lifting 5-l jugs, so I’ve made a resolution to go for a short walk three times a day.

  2. I commend the effort but dislike the means.

    Learning a new dance move… Learning to juggle… Walk a bit further for your smoke break…

  3. a word of caution that the author’s “random movements” are a lot less random and possibly dangerous than those of us without a degree in “clinical exercise physiology”.

    i find this interesting as the sedentary yet active personality describes myself as well. snowboard regularly and p90x 4 times a week (not enough) yet on the couch or at a desk at least 10 hours a day.

    our house isn’t big enough to have an exercise room such as the author describes.

  4. I spend a good majority of my day at my desk, which is why I take breaks to pump up some loud music and dance free-form, usually with weights in my hands to gain upper body strength as well. I discovered early-on that doing repetitive exercises that focused only a particular group of muscles or movements (such as sit-ups or jumping jacks) only left me tired and aching whereas dancing–which requires the movement of many minute muscles as well as larger groups–leaves my heart thumping but my mind and body eventually enervated and relaxed.

    Our bodies weren’t designed for repetition, be it sitting or standing.

  5. Oddly, one of my favourite cranks, London’s Stanley Green aka “The Protein Man”, was strongly of the opinion that too much sitting was A Bad Thing, along with nuts, peas and chicken.

  6. Promoting obsessive exercising on BB now? I don’t know about anyone else, but if I took a break from my work day to do sit-ups, I think my boss would try to have me committed. Compulsive exercising is not a good thing.

    Also, who really works at a job where you’re sitting all the time without a break? I’m up and down to the bathroom, photocopy room, to my colleague’s offices to discuss various projects, to the mail room, to various coffee shops and restaurants at lunch time etc.

    1. I was fortunate at one time to have worked at a company that encouraged ergonomic tailoring of one’s workspace. Found that configuring a desk in a high position and standing while working was an excellent way to avoid CGI-induced Fatass Syndrome.

  7. I keep telling my husband that we need to set up all our devices to be run by petal powered electricity. I would totally bike in exchange for my time on the web, if it were feasible.

  8. I am so glad to see people starting to point out that sitting at a desk all day long (even if you get up for the bathroom or the printer) is not good for you. Adding little breaks in even just to stretch is a great way to keep a person motivated as well as improving their health. Way to go!!

  9. Sitting at my desk all day is like smoking or drinking to excess or overeating. It’s protracted suicide and I’m willing to admit it. Quiet desperate lives.

  10. These types of breaks also do something else important — they give you time to think. If you were working in an office and you’re sitting at your desk staring at the ceiling, and your boss walks in, she’d probably be pissed off. “What are you doing?!” “I’m thinking.” “We’re not paying you to think, we’re paying you to work!”

    Granted, if you’re a creative professional you might have more leeway but you would still get funny looks if you just got up and walked around the office ponderously. Taking these breaks not only gets you away from sitting at a computer, it also lets your mind take a break and do some of those weird “deep process” things where a lot of people work through problems and come up with interesting solutions.

  11. I am becoming increasingly concerned about my sedentary lifestyle. On an average work day I am sitting or laying down nearly the entire time. I used to smoke and would take breaks regularly, I would go for walk once or twice and/or stand around socializing with other smokers. I used to have coffee (and donuts) every day so I would take at least one walk to the coffee shop. I quit smoking and drinking coffee regularly, now the only routine motivation for not sitting at work is the restroom; except I don’t need to pee nearly as often without the daily coffee consumption. I quit my “unhealthy habits” and with them lost the things which motivated me to be non-sedentary at work.

    I am considering taking up smoking again, “for my health”…

    1. There is only one person in my husband’s small office that actually smokes, and takes the repeated smoke breaks regularly.
      However, my husband, and couple of his coworkers, pissed at how much extra time and fresh air the smoker got, now repeatedly take “smoke breaks” themselves.
      Actually, it’s usually justa quick walk around the parking lot. But for some reason, calling it a “smoke break” makes it more socially acceptable than if any of them said they were going to “go take a walk and get some fresh air.”

  12. For half of last year – during waking hours – I religiously set my phone’s alarm to go off on the hour … at which point I would perform X repetitions of some exercise. One day it might be 15 pushups an hour, the next a 1-minute “plank” brace, the next 20 free squats, etc. During part of this time I was doing on-site consulting for an institutional client. I would just excuse myself from meetings for a purported bathroom break. I augmented this with weekly 10km runs, taking the stairs when possible, occasional swims.

    Overall this was much less effective (in terms of overall strength) than my previous year of visiting a personal trainer 3 times/week.

    One man’s experience … YMMV.

    1. I tried that but it’s not the same and I couldn’t maintain the habit. The weather is rarely pleasant, without the motivating pleasure it becomes very easy to just say no.

  13. I was always intrigued by the fact that Hemingway wrote standing up; had a kind of pulpit/lecturn built for himself. How this affected his longterm health we shall never know, unless standing causes suicide.

  14. I too am skeptical. I appreciate the idea but don’t think it’d really be that effective, at least for most people.

    Every little bit helps, sure, and if you keep at it I suppose you’ll gradually become accustomed to it and maybe you won’t be as lazy about regular exercise – this is a good thing. But as a means to healthy ends by itself, doing regular random small exercise I don’t think will do much.

    I am quite sedentary myself. I recently played a dancing game on a friend’s Xbox 360 Kinect (the only other time I ever really danced was when I met my girlfriend! I guess it works…) After figuring out the moves, I switched it to “workout mode” because I was working up a bit of a sweat and was curious how much exercise I was actually accomplishing. After telling it how much I weigh, according to the game, doing a 1:30-2:00 song with a moderately intense full-body dance routine burns 10-12 calories. Now, I don’t mean to imply that burning calories is the only benefit – I’m sure it helps your aerobic health, improves your balance, etc.

    But, what that told me is that doing short, random exercise isn’t really going to cut it. You’ll need to do longer workout sessions, either daily or several times a week, as is common (I’ll add that doing longer sessions with the game, or just dancing in general, I think is a great idea – regular exercise is too boring for many people). For your random exercise/time to think, I think a walk in the fresh air is a better idea.

  15. if you’re worried about walking around the office randomly, try carrying a piece of paper and a pen out in the open. it’ll make you look like you’re traveling on purpose, maybe to get a signature or something. and no one knows where you’re headed, but you look like you’re busy.

  16. I stand at my desk… burns at least twice the calories of sitting, plus standing helps me stay alert and awake.

  17. Oddly enough, I have been doing the same thing as the subject of this thread, however, it seems I should do this more often, but, still, it is interesting to see someone else has reached the same conclusions I have.

  18. I’m wondering if the routine, minimal exercise, might keep one’s metabolism running at a faster clip than someone who is sedentary most of the time. So while the overall benefit of calorie loss during the exercise itself might be minimal, if overall moment-to-moment calorie usage is improved, it’s probably a big help. Of course, at least several dedicated more intense exercise sessions per week on TOP of this kind of routine would be important.

  19. Nice idea. The problem is it’s a huge mental burden constantly nagging at you. Starting is the hardest part of doing exercise and now you have to do it multiple times a day. Plus, as a programmer, I need uninterrupted time to get into the zone — I feel like I have enough interruptions already.

    Here’s a potential mod that might be less obtrusive and get some of the same benefits: P-ups. Whenever you go to the bathroom, do some smallish set number of pushups/squats whatever. Pros: Makes the break you’re taking already a little more physically stimulating without interrupting your concentration. Less memory-burden because it’s associated with a “task” you’re doing already. Cons: the associating is mildly disgusting. You need the right bathroom setup.

    Also, if you work in an environment where you can take a mini exercise break whenever you want (a requirement for any of these) you might as well avail yourself of a more interesting exercise than mere pusups/squats/etc. Like swinging around a sledgehammer with a sweater wrapped around it (see

  20. Could someone please comment on how the act of meditation should be regarded in light of all these reports on how a sedentary lifestyle is bad for your health? Thanks.

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