Posted by: patenttranslator | April 19, 2015

The Dangers of Sedentary Lifestyle Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The translating community is abuzz with what is called the dangers of sedentary lifestyle.

It seems that translators are buying in droves a special desk that makes it possible to type and work in front of a computer while standing up. Hmm…..

Based on my informal research conducted secretly on social media, especially Facebook, women in particular seem to be interested in such a desk, almost as much as in yoga, although not as much as they are interested for instance in pictures of sunsets, babies and cute dogs wearing sunglasses and hats and such. I remember that I was watching on YouTube a video of two female translators demonstrating the advantages of this wonderful new desk a couple of months ago, which costs only about 500 dollars plus tax for the cheaper, plain vanilla version!

But I was really not watching it because I would be interested in wasting my money on the desk, as I mostly just wanted to see what my colleagues look like …. so that I could recognize them should I run into them one day at conference or something, OK?

According to, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases, and as physical inactivity may increase the risks of certain cancers, it may contribute to anxiety and depression, it has been shown to be a risk factor for certain cardiovascular diseases, etc. Note the judicious use of modifiers (“may”, “has been shown”).

In some professions, you simply have to work while mostly standing up. Opera singers, for example, have to sing while standing up (otherwise they could not pull off the high notes), but they get a long break when they can sit down during a long intermission as the opera audience is mingling, or sipping a glass of wine while standing or sitting at the bar. I bet opera singers mostly sit down during the intermission.

Walmart clerks have to stand up for about 8 hours a day while they interact with customers for 7 dollars and 25 cents an hour. Or maybe it is 9 dollars now, but probably not 8 dollars and 25 cents. They get only two 20-minute breaks when they can sit down. I know that because I asked one last month.

Circus elephants are also forced to stand up on their hind legs by their trainers to the delight of children and adults who came to see things like elephants standing up on their hind legs. Because they are elephants, they can’t do it for a very long time, but the audience is always happily clapping every time when elephants are made to stand up.

I have been sitting on my derrière in every job I ever had since 1980 when I graduated from Charles University in Prague with a degree in Japanese and English studies, and I like the fact that thanks to my uncanny linguistic skills, I can sit on my derrière when I work, or even lie down on a couch just fine, thank you very much.

I bet opera singers and Walmart clerks would not mind at all if they could plop down in a comfortable, reclining chair while they work, and elephants must absolutely hate it when they are forced to stand up by their trainers, which just might be the reason why they sometime trample them to death, an act that is much easier to accomplish than standing on your hind (or front) legs when you happen to be an elephant.

Let’s face it, when you are an opera singer, a Walmart clerk or a circus elephant, you don’t have a whole lot of choices. You simply have to do what they tell you to do and keep your mouth shut (or open in the case of the opera singer). A Walmart clerk who would dare to ask for a chair to sit in while working would get fired, and I don’t even want to think what they might do to a disobedient elephant who refuses to stand up on his hind legs, which must be torture for an elephant.

But unlike elephants and minimum wage workers, translators can choose how they work. I think that we translators should try to be a little bit more appreciative of what we have, and the fact that we don’t have to stand up while we translate is one of the advantages of our occupation.

Although translating may not even look like work to civilians who don’t know much about translation, just pecking or banging on a keyboard, which is not that different from a child playing a video game, translating is difficult and complicated work. And when your work is difficult and complicated, you want to be as comfortable as possible.

Standing up will make you tired after a short while, and when you are tired, the neurons in your brain are likely to misfire more frequently, causing frequent mistranslations. I can translate on my laptop when I am comfortably lying on my sofa, but I could not translate standing up.

So I have designed my own strategy for dealing with the fact that I do have to sit in a chair a lot.

I don’t know if my solutions would work for you, but one thing that helps me to some extent is the fact that I have three workstations in my house in two different rooms. Now that our children no longer live with us, I have plenty of space to spread out. And although I understand that sitting in a chair in the same position for long hours is bad for my health, in addition to being uncomfortable, I also understand that I need to be comfortable when I translate.

Because each of these three chairs has slightly different design, I sit at a different angle in each of these chairs, and when my back is telling me that it is time to move to a different position with a different perspective of the world, I go to one of my stations in another room. This also helps when I am working on two or more different projects in different languages because I don’t have to exit the websites that I need for a given project, or keep putting away and bringing to another room dictionaries (yes, I still use those sometime) and printouts of translations.

But the most important thing that I think translators should remember is that the main problem is not that we have to sit in a chair. The main problem is that we have to sit in a chair for too many hours because that is the only way to make enough money to pay our bills if our rates are too low.

Make sure that your rates are high enough so that you can pay your bills while working fewer hours, and you won’t have to worry too much about the horrible “dangers of a sedentary lifestyle”. You will be able to go to your gym, or jogging or walking, or take your dog for a walk whenever the spirit moves you to do so, which is a much better way to counter the effects of a sedentary lifestyle than splurging 500 dollars on a desk that will make you tired when you have to stand up while working, just like a clerk working for a minimum wage at Walmart.

I know that something like that is easier said than done. But it is the best solution because working less and moving around more is a much, much better solution than a standing desk, let alone a “treadmill desk”, the latest instrument of torture that some misguided translators are already beginning to recommend to each other on social media.


  1. I sat at my desk for long periods at a time for quite a few years in the first part of my career. Then I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (probably not just from inactivity but also some heredity and too many doughnut breakfasts), and since then I have made sure to keep moving. I work out at the gym with a trainer 2 hours a week, walk or run 3 or 4 miles a day whenever possible, etc. I don’t think I need a standing desk, but I’m convinced that most people are getting a lot less activity in their lives than they think they are, and than they need.

    Translation is an especially treacherous job in this respect, I think, because you can concentrate so strongly on it that several hours can go by without your noticing it at all. At least, that happens to me often. Perhaps that’s why some people like standing desks.

    But I agree that treadmill desks are really too much. Better to get away from your desk altogether and walk or jog down to the store for your cigarettes and booze, or whatever fuels your translating bouts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I too work out at the gym 3 or 4 times a week, about 30 minutes each time, I walk my dog, and try to watch how much I eat and drink. I still eat and drink too much, but not as much as before.

    It seems to be working for me, more or less, no major problems, other than a pain in the knees sometime.

    Maybe standing desks are a part of the solution to inactivity for the younger generation, but I am much too old for something like that (63).

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I don’t think you’re ever too old to stand, although you have to be careful. I think I saw a photo of a Buckingham Palace guard collapsing the other day, and when I played in our high school band and we had to show up at ROTC ceremonies on hot days, band members (and sometimes even the cadets) often keeled over due to lack of fitness.


  4. The treadmill desk is just a hamster wheel re-imagined so you run on the outside. Hook it up to a sausage grinder and just imagine the business you could do….

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Ha, ha, ha …..

    Love it.

    But you might have just made yourself a few enemies among a few translators in the younger crowd who are enamored of this new bread slicing machine, hopefully only temporarily.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have had one of these sit-to-stand desks since 2011. It works really well. I can stand all day and translate. I don’t get tired from it, and my posture is much better, so it relieves arm and neck pain problems I had been having from long years of sitting.

    The great thing is that it has strengthened the muscles used for standing. When I sing in our local chorale, I can stand for hours, while my peers start getting tired and need to sit.

    My translations are just as good (if not better) than before. If for some reason I need a break from standing, I can sit in a chair and bend forward for a minute, or go on a walk. It may not be for everyone, but it works very well for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Glad it works for you, Lynn.

    If they lower the price, I may actually buy it myself.


  8. Some of my translating colleagues here in Vermont are all aquiver about standing or treadmill desks as a “solution” to 10-12 hour days sitting and translating. I ask them, “Why don’t you just go outside and take a walk? Isn’t that why you moved to Vermont, to enjoy the great outdoors?!?” No, they say they don’t want to take a break. One of them is asking all around to find a “discounted” treadmill desks. Sounds like she’s on Kevin’s hamster wheel.

    Me? I have an antique desk I bought at a local auction, made in the 18th century when lots of scholars stood while they read and wrote. It was cheap because no one else cared to stand at a desk. Like you, I alternate between using this desk and one where I can sit. Oh, and yeah, I get outside often to take a walk down the dirt road I live on, following the course of a lovely brook, and enjoy the fresh air.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. TranslationCraft is on the right track. It’s not about the damn desk, so the current hype of “desks are killing us!!!” shouldn’t be rewarded with “now let’s all stand at our desks instead!”

    Movement has its own rewards, reminds us of a life well-lived following pursuits more than just the next paycheck. If this round of desks-are-worse-than-smoking hysteria leads us just to new-desk fix rather than a what-the-hell-is-my-life-for realization, it’s just another moment in media-promoted self-loathing.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: