Five days a week, many people head for work in the morning focused on the deadlines, projects and meetings waiting for them at the office. Armed with the best intentions of healthy homemade lunches, plans to walk during breaks or promises to pass on a co-worker’s birthday cake, the hustle of the workday often takes over – and healthy habits end up taking a back seat.
When fast food replaces your brown bag lunch and long days keep you from the gym, a few extra pounds are likely to pop up. But when busy schedules overshadow healthy living at the office, the impact on your physical and mental health can be surprising – and scary.
With the recent popularity of fitness trackers and food-logging apps, more adults are making an effort to monitor their health and increase their daily activity. These efforts no doubt help to balance out a day at a desk. But research shows that the physical toll of all that sitting is pretty serious stuff. Sitting for more than six hours a day can cause serious health issues like organ damage, muscle degeneration and increased blood pressure and cholesterol. Sitting for long periods even increases your risk of early death – some research actually shows that inactivity now kills more people than smoking!
But your desk job doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Counteracting the major impact office work has on your health can start with some simple habits you can put in place at your desk and at home.
One way to avoid the negative effect of sitting is simple – get up! There are lots of creative ways you can incorporate movement and healthy habits into the workday. Pick a few of our favorites to test out and see what works for your office environment.
At the Office
1. Stand tall. Studies suggest that standing more – even simply standing at your desk while you’re reading emails or on the phone – could lower your risk for obesity and illness.
2. Get aligned. Good posture and proper desk setup are important factors in a healthy office environment. Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missing a day of work, and the second most common reason for a trip to the doctor. Does your desk need some rearranging?
3. Walk and talk. Try taking “walking meetings” when you have more casual check-ins or conversations. Walking at less than two miles per hour can increase your energy expenditure by 200 calories per hour.
4. Keep it moving. After lunch, take a quick stroll, or stand at your desk while you check emails that rolled in during the break. Sitting after a meals leads to blood sugar spikes, which can be cut in half by staying on your feet after feasting.
5. Chair yoga. Keep your limbs and mind loose and limber. Try two minutes of simple stretches and mindful breathing that can be easily done while sitting.
6. Have a ball. A strong core is essential to a strong back and good posture. Using a large exercise ball as a replacement for your desk chair for even some of the day can be a balancing act. An exercise ball requires you to engage and activate your core muscles consistently in order to stay seated.
7. Work it. There are many “office-friendly” workout routines and fitness moves you can do throughout the day to fend off the negative effects of a desk job. Test a few out to see what you like, and build a more active workday schedule.
8. Walk it out. Feeling fidgety, inattentive or tired? Just need a break? Research shows lunchtime walks can drastically improve your workday by improving enthusiasm, increasing relaxation and reducing nervousness.
Once you’re out of the office, stay active at home and resist the urge to binge-watch TV from the couch. You can even get the whole family involved.
- Turn off the tube. People who sat for more than four hours a day while watching TV had a 46 percent increase in death from any cause compared to those who sat in front of the set for less than two hours.
- Hit the hay. While sitting at your desk may wreak havoc on your health, healthy practices like staying active, eating healthy and getting appropriate amounts of sleep each night can help counteract those effects.
- Multitasking meal prep. Healthy eating is another key player in maintaining your health, and preparing meals ahead of time can help you stay on track – and pass on the donuts – when a stressful day hits. Find time each night to prep and pack your lunch for the next day, and squeeze in a bit of fitness while you’re at it. Or prep all your meals for the week on the weekend! Calf raises and abdominal tightening exercises are easy moves you can do as you move around the kitchen. Just be sure safety comes first when chopping those veggies!
Feeling inspired? Enlist a coworker to be your active buddy and start trying some new techniques to stay healthy and focused even on the busiest of days.