Ask aSweatLife: Staying Active at a Desk Job

We’re opening up the floor for questions from you, aSweatLife-rs. We have a team of personal trainers, yoga instructors, running coaches, Registered Dietitians and more to help get you answers. If we don’t know the answer to your question, we’ll work with friends of aSweatLife to find it. Have a question? Ask us here.

Lacey L. asks, “I have a sedentary desk job. Aside from short five minute walks around the office, what can I do to stay active (and awake!)?”

This is an important question because – and I hate to lead with something this heavy –  our desk jobs are killing us. The human body was not built to be sedentary, but our jobs don’t require manual labor anymore. Our tendency to be in light activity jobs increased dramatically over the past 45 years and we’re spending a lot more time sitting at our desks, in our cars and on our couches. On a societal level, inactive lifestyles cause some pretty terrible conditions.

In a post by Tamara Rosin, she quoted a study by Johns Hopkins Medicine, which found “that a lack of physical activity has been clearly found to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other conditions, such as high blood pressure. A lack of physical activity can contribute to depression and anxiety and can increase the risk of certain cancers.”

Public Enemy #1

All of this stuff is just to stress the importance of staying active at a desk job.

Here’s the good news, Lacey: you already know all of that because you asked the right question. Fitting more activity into your day is incredibly important, not only for your health long-term, but also for your energy level and productivity at work.

But the question isn’t “Do I need more activity?” it’s “How do I get more?” so we want to provide you with some specific actions you can take.

1. Find a way to walk more during your commute.

That could mean walking to and from work if you live within one to two miles of your office, parking farther away from your office than you actually have to or getting off the train a few stops early. That time spent moving in the morning will both serve to energize you and to add those all important steps to your day.

This is great for your energy and your overall health. But adding that extra activity to your morning and evening won’t necessarily counteract sitting all day, according to NPR.

The next point will …

2. Stand up for 10 minutes every hour.

It’s been found that standing for 10 minutes of intermittent activity for every hour you spent sitting will counteract the impact of sitting. You can do a number of things to achieve those 10 minutes per hour, which you’ll see detailed in items three, four and five on this list.

It sounds like you’re already taking five minute walks around the office, which is a great start, but if your office is super small and your coworker Jim is starting to think you have a thing for him because you’re constantly walking by his desk, you might want other options.

3. Get a standing desk.

I have the InMotion Elevate™ DeskTop DT1 and I love it. It changes position with me if I want to sit or stand and it’s really easy to adjust. That being said, you probably have a work station that your employer bought for you and it probably looks like all of your colleagues’ work stations. Welcome to the open-office-concept nation.

A lot of employers can be swayed to invest in standing desks or attachments to existing desks through two key pieces of data: enabling standing decreases healthcare costs by reducing the long-term impact of sitting and increases productivity day-to-day. That’s what we call a win-win, friends.

Here’s something to help your case: A study by the University of Minnesota quoted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune found measurable improvement of productivity in workers who were completing tasks on treadmill desks.

“The study, conducted by Avner Ben-Ner, a professor of Work and Organizations at the Carlson School of Management, followed about 40 employees of a local financial services company who regularly used treadmills instead of chairs. Workers had a computer, a phone and writing space on a desk in front of a treadmill set to go no faster than 2 miles per hour. Ben-Ner and his co-authors studied them for a year. What they found was that treadmills increased productivity by nearly 10 percent.”

Can’t get your employer to buy you one? Hack one together with this guide from Bob Vila.

4. Drink more water.

Water does two key things you’re interested in:

1. It helps to increase your energy level. According to Men’s Health, “In general, dehydration leads to fatigue, which slowly eats away at your bodily functions you need to get through the day. The more water you drink, the more awake and alert you’ll feel.”

2. It makes you have to use the restroom, which will get you out of your desk. It’s like nature’s reminder to stand up. Bring a water bottle to work and fill it before you check or send your very first email. Try to finish that entire bottle between the top of the hour and the 15 minute mark. Repeat that every hour.

5. Stretch. 

We sat down with Delos Therapy to talk through the ways that those who sit can counteract the impact on muscles – in particular the hips, neck and back – which tend to be the trouble spots in this sedentary world.

Not only will stretching allow you to step away from your desk and achieve a few minutes out of your static position, it can also help you to feel more comfortable at your desk, which can help you focus on the task at hand, rather than your aching neck/back/hips. It’s also a good idea to keep a lacrosse ball at your desk for any serious knots that plague you, pressure does a lot more to relieve tense muscles than stretching according to Delos Therapy Founder Eric Owens.

At the end of the day, it’s important to fit some activity into every hour, so that might mean getting creative and being the person to declare that your status meeting will be conducted out of chairs moving forward or setting an alarm on your computer to remind you to stand each hour. Hope that helps, Lacey!

Have a question? Ask us here.

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About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help womxn live better lives and achieve their goals. Before founding health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and fresh out of college she worked on the '08 Obama campaign in Michigan. From there, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience in building community and her passion for wellness. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.