In this post we stray a little from our recent interests in self sufficiency and minimizing waste to discuss a health concern we learned about that we felt important enough to share.
There is a lot of recent writing about the dangers associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Those of us who spend our day sitting at a desk or in front of a computer are told that we should exercise more. But what if the problem is not just the lack of exercise, but the actual sitting itself? It does seem somewhat intuitive that sitting down and hunching over a PC for hours during the day is not really what our bodies were meant to be doing. The convention at most office workplaces has meant that we now sit for up to 8 hours each day with few breaks, then drive home (seated) and possibly sit for more hours in the evening for relaxation. I myself have spent many hours doing so for nearly 20 years now. Thankfully I work for a company that is very aware of the ergonomic risks associated with the standard desk work setup and much effort is spent on educating people about the risks of repetitive strain injuries. This may help prevent aches and pains, but what about the more serious risks?
I came across this article and discovered it was one of many summarizing the newly identified dangers associated with sitting for extended periods.
To highlight some findings in the article:
One study compared adults who spent less than two hours a day seated (in front of the TV or other screen-based activity) with those who logged more than four hours a day of recreational screen time. Those with greater screen time (seated time) had:
- A nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause
- About a 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack
To me, these are shocking numbers caused by something considered so benign. The article goes on to say that these damaging effects are not counteracted by gym time or other exercise – the damage from sitting is done and remains. Some other headlines declared that sitting was “the new smoking”. I knew I had to do something about this.
Standing desks are nothing new, but in my experience they were reserved for people with significant back problems and the standing office arrangements tended to be prescribed for those issues. I was so bothered by the apparent health effects that I had to try this out. Getting a state of the art electrically adjustable standing / seating desk will cost from €1000 upwards, and so I wanted to be sure I could or would stick with this for the longer term before spending the money.
You can see my DIY version here. I am happy to report it works very well. Those are packing Styrofoam blocks under a board that my keyboard is sitting on. The height should be such that your elbows are at approximately 90 degrees w hen using the keyboard, and the monitor top should be at your eye level. In my case I had the luxury of being able to leave space for my laptop at a lower level as well as being able to easily switch the mouse and keyboard from the higher position to the lower position providing the easy option to sit when I wanted. This turns out to be necessary. I’m now sitting only 10-20% of the time I’m in front of the computer.
Standing for hours has its own risks and, depending on your physical condition, can tire you out quickly, so the best option would seem to be a mix of standing and sitting. The big advantage of standing for some of the work day is that, apart from keeping your metabolism running at a higher rate, you tend to move around a lot more on your feet, which is exactly why standing is so much better for your body.
Six months into my experiment and going strong, I have noticed:
- I work a little more efficiently as when standing I seem to be more attentive to what I’m doing and more eager to finish it.
- My posture has improved (shoulder droop is slowly reversing) – this seems to happen naturally as it’s more comfortable when standing to keep your back straight.
- I will more quickly walk away to do something I need to do as opposed to mentally deciding when seated, that you can wait until you need to get up to go do that thing. Walking up to your standing desk to engage in work, instead of flopping into a comfy chair seems to keep your brain more alert and attentive.
- I don’t get any post lunch slump anymore…you know that low energy feeling when a heavy lunch is being digested. Maybe it’s because standing and associated movements trigger metabolic processes that might otherwise stall while you are sitting and digesting your lunch
I should point out though that I did have some minor back pain during the first two weeks of doing this. It may just have been due to not adjusting my heights (keyboard, monitor) just right initially and then tweaking these over time. Or is may have been as simple as my back, curved over years by seated computing (see the image at the start of the article), was realigning and strengthening in areas it needed to use to keep me standing. Anyway, it passed, and now I have no hint of any back pain. But if you try this, be aware that you may experience this and may need to push through it, or it may be your body telling you that standing for lengths of time isn’t for you.
I do highly recommend giving this a try as I can honestly say I feel the benefits every day now, and I know it’s better for me. In a few years we may wonder at how we allowed this sedentary workplace practice to go unchecked for so long.
Also note that you can purchase cheaper standing alternatives like this one (Varidesk pro plus 30) to get you going, or as we prefer here at WeMakeDo…making your own from odds and ends is a very easy task and potentially life extending!
Here is how things were looking by Wednesday: The jar was filling up but plenty of room left for the rest of the week. In the picture there is a large plastic wrapper from a set of school tights for our eldest girl. It was a spur of the moment purchase, one of those situations when we thought that avoiding plastic had to come second to getting the tights bought. I hadn’t bought tights in about 3 years, always waiting for hand me downs. I should have just sent her to school in socks for another week until I could have sourced some. There’s a plastic cat food pouch from a pack purchased ages ago (before we cared) – this will be avoided in the future by using canned meat and boxed nuts. Some fancy cheese we got as a gift had an inedible rind (we tried!!) so in that went too. All in all, we figured things were going fine.
By the end of the week, we were delighted to see that we still hadn’t filled the glass jar. We found that we were taking a bit more liberty in what went into the composter (veg fried in oil??) and the hens were getting force fed potato skins and leftover toast that had a bit of jam on. The cat was given an extra day to finish the salmon skins. And mommy-eat-anything, the human garbage dump, ate any other scraps that would normally go in the bin.
Here’s the overview of our junk for the week, and how we hope to eliminate each of the items:
Crisp bag from Joe’s Farm Crisps: The package is made from repurposed coffee bean bags, which is how I justified this yummy purchase. It is still my rubbish though. Not sure what to do with it. Maybe this will be an every other week indulgence..
Cat Food bag and School Tights bag: See above. Tin cans for the cat from now on, along with Whiskas cardboard boxed cat nuts. And the new tights… what was I thinking! This was a good reminder that something might not be as essential to puchase on the spur of the moment as it seems.
Cheese Rind & Wax: We eat lots of cheese… I found some recipes using cheese rinds to make stock. The wax might be compostable. We should be able to find a use or a waste free disposal option for these.
Dishwasher tab wrappers: These were bought in bulk with a Groupon voucher before we were concerned about the packaging. We’ll use them up then source non-packaged dishwasher soap (like the old cardboard boxes of Cascade that we used to use in Alaska..)
Tea Bag Covers: We won’t be buying tea bags with wrappers on them anymore. In fact, we’ll aim to switch to loose tea from a shop in Cork.
Yogurt Pot Covers: Mr MakeDo loves his lemon custard yogurt. I started making homemade yogurt in July, and just this week figured out that adding lemon curd to homemade yogurt nearly replaces his favourite yogurt. So, these will be eliminated. We recycled the paper pots (hmmm, better check that’s allowed…)
Cream Cheese Cover: I made courgette cake, which had to have cream cheese icing on it. Indulgence. We do use the cream cheese pots for lunches, but we don’t need that many. Maybe I’ll look for a homemade recipe for cream cheese. For now, though, we’ll reduce the cream cheese purchases.
TetraPak pull tabs: We need to come up with a plan to reduce Tetrapak use. We’ll post here when we do!
Expired Hairbands and Rubber Bands: No idea what to do with these yet. Suggestions welcome!
Gum Wrappers: Gum is gross – our 5 year old needs to find something else to be obsessed with. It hopefully won’t appear again.
Fruit Sticky Labels: Shopping at the Farmer’s Markets will eliminate the fruit labels, while the fruit is in season. Not a huge amount of waste, but it all counts.
Salmon Skins (not pictured here): The cat ate most of them, but we’re going to see if we can bury them or chop them up finely and compost them. I’ll ask the fishmonger what he does with the skins. Or I might ask him to skin them for me.
We also found that we should get better about cutting off inedible parts of veg before cooking them, since cooked stuff isn’t desirable in the composter. For example, pull the kale leaves off the stalks before making kale chips.
Of course a week is short enough that plenty of purchases in packaging that last longer wouldn’t reach end of life, and so won’t appear in this test. One example of this is that the family got head lice this week (!!!) and my first thought was how much room the delousing shampoo bottle would take up in our glass jar! But luckily, we bought a 6 treatment bottle, and only needed to shampoo 4 of us. So the bottle didn’t need to be discarded, yet.
Our glass jar will remain on our kitchen countertop, and the rest of the household bins will stay stacked and put away. I suppose we should warn guests.
An interesting side-effect of this high degree of attention to our household waste is that we are becoming even more keenly aware of the clutter in our home that we don’t need to have around. And so Zero Waste Week seems to have triggered a de-clutter month also. Some time is being spent rounding up things that we don’t love or enjoy using so much as we come across them. We hope that as this stuff leaves, that it wont get replaced by other similar stuff now that we have become more sensitive to the effects of consuming. Many of these items were things we picked up in our premarried lives that we are just no longer attached to. Some were posted for sale online and the rest will be offered to our local charity shop. We did order a set of bamboo toothbrushes (Eccoe-Verde), which we love!
One other thing I’d like to mention is the use of reusable feminine products. Once you start using these, you’ll wonder why you never did before. They save a huge amount of money, and the cups are safer for you too by eliminating the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Have a look at this gorgeous young lady, Lauren Singer, who’s a huge advocate, or here is a list of different alternatives for cups or pads.
I’d read about the joy that others experience as a result of minimizing, and I used to think it was a little bit corny. But, I have to admit to very much starting to feel that joy, as we move closer to having only the things we love and need. I’m already noticing more free time now that we spend less time cleaning up, throwing stuff away and taking out the rubbish.
If you want more motivation to reduce waste and minimize your stuff, have a look into Lauren Singer (mentioned above) or Bea Johnson, the queen of zero waste!
Having learned a lot from our experiences during plastic free July we intended to participate in the Zero waste week, starting Monday September 5th. Learning how to at least manage and control our use of single use plastics was an excellent starting point for attempting to lead the family towards trying to eliminate our household waste at least for a short period. Partaking in these organized waste efforts is a great way to coax everyone to pay attention to the problem and to play with ways to reduce. The kids are particularly interested in these experiments and love to get involved in the process.
Our plan of attack for the week will revolve around:
- Focus in particular on food waste, and reusing leftovers; for leftovers that we don’t use:
- Expanding the diet of our trusty hens who are keen to eat almost anything we have tried on them that doesn’t go in the composter.
- Cat for any fish scraps we have (being a no meat household removes that issue for us)
- Zero plastic shopping – of course.
- These first few deal with the kitchen waste which for us is easily the biggest source of daily waste generation.
- Re-useable nappies all the way for our two kids who still need them
- No unnecessary purchasing which involves packaging of any kind.
Shown is a picture of our temporary bin which will have pride of place on our kitchen counter for the week, where everyone can see it and monitor our progress. We took the precautions of emptying and hiding all other bins in the house to start the week so we can clearly see what is being generated during the week. A leftover croissant was waiting for hen-breakfast but was later grabbed for a bedtime snack.
As with the plastic free effort, the goal here is not so much to minimise the waste but more to examine what we generate alot of and to look for alternatives. Zero waste feels like an unattainable goal but as many bloggers have demonstrated, it is a practical target to aim for and we can all make some changes to move in that direction at least.
With our family of 5, we needed to put a little more thought into preparing for areas such as nappies, school lunches and grocery shopping, but as our previous experience showed us, plastic was the issue for groceries and we found that our plastic free habits have stayed with us and it has become second nature now to just avoid plastic packaged foods. This has meant we now only shop at farmers markets and SuperValu, as well as the English Market in Cork.
Composting is also something that we have done for many years now and if you have the space in your garden it is an excellent way of reusing raw food scraps. We made our two bin composter from old pallets and a metal base from a kids cot, covered in roofing rubber membrane (leftover). We then lined it with plastic construction film (left over from our house build) to slow the breakdown of the wood. We fill one bin while the other full side breaks down, and have found that we can get good quality compost out from the full side in the time it takes us to fill the other bin. In August we emptied the latest batch of compost onto our veggie garden to help restore it.
So if you have the interest, join us for Zero waste week and learn more about what your household generates.