Curse of the sedentary lifestyle | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 29, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:15 AM, October 29, 2018

Curse of the sedentary lifestyle

Since my wife bought me a Fitbit Versa smartwatch to help me monitor my physical activity (spoiler alert: I am a proverbial couch potato), I astonished even myself as to how little bodily exertion I put myself through in a whole week which, in most weeks, amounts to fewer than a couple of thousand steps, whereas the daily recommended activity for an adult is to take 10,000 steps a day or 70,000 steps a week. In other words, I was failing the weekly recommended quota of exercise by a factor of 35. How more sedentary can one get? The answer will surprise you.

As I checked around, I found that most of my friends in the city get around a similar physical activity given our mostly desk-bound work and a lifestyle that simply makes us take a few steps to the lift lobby or walk a few feet to the car porch and that's about all. Even those who may not have access to chauffeured cars only have to yell “Rickshaw” or “CNG”, or walk a few extra steps to bus stops. With our metabolism rate dropping to its minimum as we age north of 40, even the slightest morsel of food we eat turns to stored fat. Such a lifestyle is not only a danger to one's physical well-being; it is also highly detrimental to the social fabric corroding productive engagement and worsening the incidence of debilitating diseases such as diabetes and depression.

Unfortunately for us city-denizen types, such sedentary lifestyle is contrary to our somatic design which craves corporeal activity and a good measure of sun on a daily basis. What is even sadder is that we don't exercise not because of a lack of physical vigour, nor because we are physically challenged—we simply do not find the time to stretch our limbs and pump our hearts with blood infused with fresh air as we slavishly move to work and back home and spend up to 3 hours a day just on the road in the worst traffic in the world. But we can't blame the traffic alone for this malaise. Our work habits have become so atrocious that even when we go for off-campus retreats to beach towns like Cox's Bazar, we don't find the time to even stroll on the beach!

Our exercise-averse culture has got so bad that when a doctor advises a patient to spend at least an hour a day on the treadmill, we find an Internet meme where the patient is sitting on a treadmill with a cold drink by his side.

In my case, I wanted to see if I was really so crippled or still capable of moving my not-so-overweight body around in the breeze. And a mountain trek in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Kathmandu valley spanning 18 km in under 4 hours got my confidence back as my Fitbit Versa kept congratulating me for exceeding the daily quota of footfalls for the first time in many years. But back to the hustle of Dhaka, I was again folded like a limbless man.

An expat friend of mine found a solution that at least solved part of the problem—he never takes the lift or elevator or whatever you call that metal-box contraption that whisks you effortlessly to the top floors of buildings, and instead he always takes the stairs. Walking up 8 or 10 flights of stairs can be a challenge and outright dangerous for people with a heart condition but walking up even 3 or 4 floors from time to time will get your hearts racing for a little while, and that's far better than having no excitement in your daily routine at all.

Another modern-day implement that can turn the menace of a sedentary civilisation is changing our work habit altogether. Fans of the Iron Man film series are already familiar with what I am talking about here. If you have not noticed yet, then go back to any of the Iron Man films and you will see that Tony Stark always works standing up, with his AI-powered computers at his beck and call doing his work with hand gestures and holographic models of his engineering creations projected in three dimensions around the workspace. In other words, he is always on his feet when he works.

Modern-day workplace researchers say that a standing work-desk is far more beneficial for your health and cerebral productivity than traditional sit-down desk-and-chair arrangements which atrophy our muscles and put our brains to sleep. A standing desk is simply a desk that is roughly a foot taller than a regular desk—sometimes flat and sometimes at a slight angle like a draftsman's desk—where you are comfortable working on your papers standing up. Standing desk sounds so counter-cultural that it is, in fact, a revolutionary idea which doctors believe can reduce back problems, fatigue and fat-buildup in our urban exercise-starved lifestyle.

Another lifestyle hack is keeping a T-shirt and a pair of walking shoes in your backpack, getting off near a park on the way home from work, and walking in the park before reaching home every alternate day. Whether it is shirking the lift to take a few flights of stairs or introducing standing desks at work or walking home from work every once in a while, we must try to get some exercise to tackle our bulging waistlines and the constant threat of debilitating disease.


Habibullah N Karim is an author, policy activist, investor and serial entrepreneur. He is a founder and former president of BASIS and founder/CEO of Technohaven Company Ltd. Email: hnkarim@gmail.com


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