Loosen Up At Work

By Sharon Naylor

December 12, 2016 5 min read

During a typical workday, people spend 5 hours and 41 minutes sitting at their desk, according to the British Psychological Society. Many studies conducted over the past decade report that sitting down for too long contributes to a lengthy list of health risks including obesity, metabolic syndrome including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat, high cholesterol levels -- all of which contribute to increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many types of cancers. Remaining seated for prolonged stretches of time, like with airline travel, can put you at risk of blood clots as well. And while sitting, your spine is compressed, causing neck and back pain, a leading cause of lost work hours.

Clearly, being deskbound is putting you at risk for illness and injury. Let's also consider that the Institute for Medicine and Public Health has coined a phrase for risks incurred by too much sitting -- at work, during commuting and while watching television: "sitting disease."

"I go to the gym and work out an hour a day," you might think, believing that you're offsetting any potential cardiovascular problems. Unfortunately, there is no definitive study proving those workouts can reverse health damage from sitting disease. And being sedentary for prolonged periods can lead to snacking more, causing weight gain or slowing down weight-loss efforts.

Where you can improve your health is by making small changes throughout the day.

--Get a standing desk. The simple act of standing while working can burn more calories. You burn 30 percent more calories while standing than you do sitting. And the muscles used while standing also increase blood flow and nutrients to your muscle tissue. You'll cut down on your tally of seated hours during your workday, and reduce those harmful health risks.

--If you can't get a standing desk, improvise by working at a high table. Employees who have the space in their offices will often bring in a high-top table or bistro table at which they work standing up.

--If you work at home, you may be able to set up your work surface above your treadmill and walk slowly and safely during your work hours.

--Get up periodically to walk a few laps around the office. Consider organizing a lunchtime walking group with co-workers, too. You may find that the exercise stimulates creative thinking and problem-solving.

--In a similar vein, if you have to chat with a co-worker, do so while walking laps around the office rather than meeting at a conference table.

--Stand while making phone calls, and, for more movement, pace while talking on the phone for an extra calorie burn and cardiovascular impact.

--Stand while eating lunch. Some restaurants have standing counters where you can take in your meal, so scout out those locations or eat standing up in the break room.

--Stand and walk while watching television at home, perhaps using commercials as a signal to get up and move around.

Standing and moving are great, but stretching is also important. Periodically, at work and at home, do some simple stretches to loosen up your tight muscles and joints. Just 10-15 minutes of stretching a few times a day can improve blood flow, posture, range of motion and stress levels. You'll get an extra boost of well-being with deep breathing during these stretches. Stretching can help reduce the risk of joint pain and back pain, as well, likely allowing you more productivity at work.

To help you remember to stand and stretch, use your computer or phone to set an alert or program your fitness watch to give you a signal. Set it for frequent reminders, and don't ignore the message. Technology can be your partner in combatting sitting disease.

Look also for free stretching videos online, as well as mindfulness apps that lead you through calming meditations and breathing exercises. You might also pop a stretching, meditation or standing yoga DVD into your work computer for a new routine during your lunch hour. When you make the commitment to move more at work, for your health and comfort, you'll find more ways to avoid sitting in your daily routine. Your new healthy regimen may inspire your co-workers to join you.

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