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Wilf Popoff

Wasted Words: The Torments of Editing

Illustration of a bird's-eye view of four people in corporate attire working at desks that have been arranged into square shape with all the workers facing inward.
Creative Business and Office Conceptual Vector Design
Teo Yi Herng ©

When I began writing this article I knew, like most of you, that editing is an unhealthy occupation. It’s so fraught with hazards it’s a wonder anyone will sell us health or life insurance. We sit long hours, our work is mentally taxing, we stare at monitors, our physical effort amounts to repetitive flexing of wrists and fingers.

I started off with an exploration of sitting, seemingly our worst nemesis, but went no further. What I discovered scared the living daylights out of me.  

Sitting (the new smoking) creates problems ranging from hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and — all elements of metabolic syndrome — to weight gain and spine injury. It is suspected as a factor in cognitive decline. The list can go on, but we already knew sitting was bad.

Who can forget the initial panic over the sitting scare? I even started to design the standing desk that I planned to build. But this solution was generally dismissed when standing was found to be as bad as sitting. And I promptly rejected the treadmill desk, as did almost everyone else. Apparently it exceeded the reasonable limits of multitasking.

I’ve been in this game for more than half a century and that adds up to a lot of sitting. By most accounts you should be reading this at a seance. But while I’ve been assailed by more than one element of metabolic syndrome I’ve been able to beat the odds through weight management, daily power walks and hobbies that keep me physically involved and far away from a chair. I’m convinced this has helped, and my doctors agree. In fact, the conventional suggestion to combat sitting disease is to head to the gym or simply engage in adequate physical activity.

The shocking and discouraging finding of health research, however, is that these measures apparently offer only limited compensation. I didn’t know this. Exercise won’t hurt you but it won’t save you either: Studies show that there is no level of regular exercise that can undo the damage sitting does to our bodies. The better policy is to just sit less and keep up the exercise to mitigate the damage.

As James Hamblin wrote in The Atlantic, citing experts, when it comes to cardiovascular health and diabetes, what is important “isn’t the time we spend exercising, but the time we spend not moving at all. The main conclusion is that vigorous physical activity… doesn’t cancel out the negative impact of time spent being sedentary, which appears to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (the leading cause of death) and diabetes, even among people who exercise regularly.”


Previous post from Wilf Popoff: Wasted Words: The Rebound of Christmas.

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3 Comments on “Wasted Words: The Torments of Editing”

  • Tim Green


    I don’t buy into the “everything is bad for you” idea. But lots of one thing (e.g., sitting) to the exclusion of everything else (e.g., standing, exercise) probably isn’t very good. I have found that exercise doesn’t need to be a specific activity that is an end to itself. It’s a lot easier if one works it into one’s daily schedule. I walk 4000 km/year, not a big deal because of three things. 1. Integrate essentials into the daily routine. For example, I read an actual paper newspaper (the paper gets used as firestarter). Instead of picking the paper up on my drive home, I make the special effort to walk to the corner store (4 km round trip) to buy the paper. 2. Get a dog. The dog helps guilt you into regular walking even when you can rationalize reasons not to. 3. Set a goal (e.g., daily, yearly walking goals) and keep track. The keeping track part is important.

  • I agree that sitting is not ideal but, thankfully, many of us are sitting and editing because we WANT to be doing it. We could be sitting in an Amazon call centre and listening to people complain about why the product they ordered hasn’t arrived as promised. Or we could be sitting in a Phoenix (in Canada) call centre and listening to people weep as they explain how they haven’t received their pay for weeks/months. We are lucky to have the opportunity to stand up and walk around when we wish (and to avoid the stress and demotivating environment that comes from working in a complaints calls centre!). All of this to say: stand up, move, and enjoy the opportunities you have. It could always be worse.

  • I used a treadmill desk for several years and only stopped because I ended up working from home and didn’t have the space. I found that the treadmill desk worked very well at the office. Set to a leisurely walking pace, I would completely forget that I was on a treadmill as I focused on whatever document I was working on. I did not get particularly tired, walked several kilometers a day more than I would have otherwise, lost weight, and generally felt energized. The ONLY drawback is that I would literally forget I was on a treadmill, so when I went to refill my tea, I would frequently fall off the damn thing. But that’s probably just me!

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