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It’s a new year, and here come the resolutions that lead to new gym memberships and eventually, abandoned treadmills. Office workers are especially prone to make these promises to get healthy, with their desk jobs often making them sedentary. I am one of those workers (though, without the resolution), and I wondered if I could use the burgeoning field of auto-analytics — collecting and analyzing data about myself — to make my life more active without having to join a gym.
My foray into office fitness actually began years ago with a set of under-desk pedals. It was early into my first corporate job and I wasn’t yet used to what I call “Spam Butt” — a dead, squishy feeling in the posterior that I associate with sitting for too long. The pedals cost me twenty-five cents at a yard sale. Not surprisingly, they squeaked and offered no resistance or feeling of exercise. They were good for a laugh (and how my colleagues did laugh), but if I wanted to be more active at work, I figured I’d need to switch from editing to coaching field hockey.
At HBR, I eventually began sitting on an exercise ball to combat Spam Butt. It was also good for a laugh (and great entertainment when colleagues’ dogs or children stopped by), but it did help me feel more active at work. I even noticed an abdominal or two after a year. But while I was sitting on the yoga ball, a curious thing was happening all around me. Heads started popping up and staying up. Standing desks were all the rage. The latest wave of stories asking if sitting is killing you was making its way around my office. This one even featured a black claw of death about to snatch a slouching chair dweller. I was happy with the activity level I thought my exercise ball gave me, but how much was that really?
Then I read Babson researcher Jim Wilson’s article “You, By the Numbers,” and decided to really find out how much exercise it was. Wilson writes about the use of auto-analytics in the workplace with the hope that we use the tools to increase our self-awareness and become better at our jobs and more satisfied with our lives. With advice from Jim, my colleague researched headphones’ effect on his productivity, and I launched an experiment to see if sitting in a chair, sitting on a ball, or standing would help me be more active at work.
My experiment was simple and imperfect, but that’s part of the beauty of auto-analytics. You don’t have to participate in a years-long research study to get enough information about yourself to put some data behind your decisions. I wore the Fitbit Ultra tracker (since surpassed by the Fitbit One), designed to measure steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed, and sleep. I spent two weeks each sitting in a chair, sitting on an exercise ball, and using a standing desk. I kept track of my steps per day in the office to see if one configuration made me more active than another. And, I monitored how I felt overall during each portion.
Would sitting in a chair prove to be the laziest of all, as I suspected? Would standing make me more apt to turn and walk to a colleague instead of emailing? Would the near constant motion of sitting on a ball trump standing? I clipped on the Fitbit to find out.
It was soon apparent that the promises of auto-analytics are huge, but still limited by our humanness. Set it and forget it only works if you first remember to set it. Several times, after taking the Fitbit off to workout in the rain or sand, I forgot to put it back on and thereby missed a day of tracking. And near the end of my experiment when I didn’t take it off on a hot day, it met its demise — death by sweat from a 10K.
Still, after 6 weeks, the results were clear. No matter what I did, I was slug-like at work. There were pros and cons for each configuration. Standing thwarted Spam Butt but sometimes led to sore hamstrings. Sitting in a chair seemed like cheating, but was the most comfortable place to be when that 3:00pm energy crash set in. Balancing on the exercise ball was far better than sitting in the chair, but now seemed lazy next to standing.
No matter the configuration, my weekly results looked like this, which includes running and playing in field hockey games:
Yes, sleep is lumped into the sedentary category (and I do get a fair amount of sleep), but it’s still disheartening.
In the end I found that whatever configuration I used, I only hovered around 2500 steps in the office during a typical workday. I’ll leave it to the doctors and ergonomics experts to argue over the merits of sitting vs standing for overall health and productivity, but thanks to auto-analytics, I know that one configuration doesn’t make me more prone to being more active than another. With that knowledge, I now mix standing and sitting without agonizing over which I should be pushing myself to do. I try to walk around the office as much as I can, and even stretch at my desk from time to time. But my experiment confirmed what I suspected in my first 9-5. If I want to really be active at work, I’m going to need a coach’s uniform.
This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review website, hbr.org
With the Games of the 30th Olympiad officially closed, the mass exodus from Olympic Stadium and greater London begins (except, perhaps, for those Cameroonians). As attention shifts to Russia and Rio for the next Games, what happens in the East End and other areas touched by 2012 Olympic construction? As the excitement of medals, world records, and pageantry fades away, what’s left behind is an important part of the outcome of any Games.
The London Legacy Development Corporation has been thinking about this since 2009 and has plans for 8,000 new homes, as well as schools and other community spaces. And as part of the “green” Olympics, roughly a third of London’s venues were designed for temporary use. Now, we’ll see if all the forethought pays off.
Not all Olympic plans go accordingly. Recent slideshows of Olympic-style “ruin porn" have been tearing up the web, showing supposedly temporary arenas still standing in tatters in Beijing, frogs inhabiting an abandoned training pool in Athens, a forgotten ski jump resting quietly in Italy. It’s difficult to balance the fervor for hosting the Olympics with the reality that many of the sports requiring bespoke venues are relatively obscure. A city may never have need of a top-notch canoe slalom facility again.
One of the forgotten places of Beijing holds special significance to me. I was fortunate to call a certain top-notch arena my office for two months in 2008 when I worked as a press operations volunteer in the Laoshan Velodrome, designed by the German firm Schuermann Architects. This “flying saucer" was home to a beautiful 250-meter wood-surface cycling track and domed-skylight ceiling. I remember standing in the press tribune looking out over that astonishingly steep track (banked at 47 degrees in places) and thinking, “What the hell are they going to do with this when we’re done?” The answer, at least according to this photo, is that the venue doubles as a driver’s ed training facility. What a kick in the gut.
The London planners don’t want their buildings to become “ruin porn” four years from now. One arena that will definitely not be left behind — it already has a ticket to Scotland — is the shooting venue. Its 22,000 square meters of PVC membrane is slated for reuse in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Recycled PVC from some of the other temporary London venues will be used in the World Cup football stadiums currently under construction in Brazil. And, though there are some concerns about feasibility, it’s been rumored that the space-aged marshmallow that is the basketball arena — one of the largest temporary venues ever built for an Olympic Games — may also be sent to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Whether or not the basketball arena makes it to South America, the creation of more flexible venues could be a key in opening up Olympic bidding to a wider audience of cities. When asked if these venues were the way of the future, Jeff Keas, project design lead of the 2012 Olympics for architecture firm Populous told Architect magazine:
They have to be. Bidding cities are finally going to see that this is the way that you don’t put such a hard burden on a city for decades to come. Within the last year or two, Montreal finally paid off its debt from the ‘76 Olympics. That [the debt] is not an option anymore. It’s in the International Olympic Committee’s best interest to ensure that more and more cities can bid.
Montreal’s Big O (or “Big Owe,” to the disillusioned) and Beijing’s Bird’s Nest are two of those well known burdens. Iconic, unique, spectacular. Also, massively expensive to build and maintain. There’s worry that even with all the advance planning, London’s Olympic Park — set to become Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after renovations — may also fail to fulfill its post-games role as a tourist draw.
In Rio, construction isn’t moving as quickly as planned. Enough so that national hero Pele even let it slip that he didn’t think his home nation was ready. As the hosts of the first Olympics to be staged in South America, many are looking at these games as more than “just sport.”
Rio’s buzzed about Solar City Tower may give an indication of that it intends to follow London’s direction as a second “green Games.” By day, solar panels at the base will collect energy to power the city and Olympic Village. Excess energy will go toward pumping seawater to the top of the tower for release as a 345-ft urban waterfall with turbines to collect energy for the evening. It’s not a temporary structure, but it is sustainable — as well as iconic, unique, and spectacular.
Do cities have to choose between expensive architecture that inspires awe — and then stands vacant for years to come — and cheaper, more flexible infrastructure? If the Solar City Tower is an indication, perhaps Rio will find an answer that fulfills the spectacle of the games, and still makes sense for the life of the city long after the closing ceremonies.
This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review website, hbr.org