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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

The Science of Sitting: Why you Should Exercise at Work

It’s the fourth time you’ve ditched your lunch buddies this week, opting instead to brown bag it at your desk. You wave goodbye with a PB&J in your left hand and keep typing—no time for chatter when an avalanche of email awaits.

Hours later, you realize you haven’t moved a major muscle group since morning, finishing another nine-hour day with your posterior glued into the same seated position.

If this sounds like you—well, that’s not good. You might not think much of it, especially if you devote most nights to steamy sessions on the Stairmaster. But could your “work now, exercise later” lifestyle put you at a higher risk for health problems? At least one major study points to yes.

Hazardous to Your Health

Researchers, who published their work in the European Heart Journal earlier this year, found that sitting for extended periods of time is linked with an increase in several health risks: higher levels of artery-blocking triglycerides and the heart disease predictor C-reactive protein, lower levels of the “good” cholesterol HDL, and a larger waist—and this is despite the fact that study participants also spent time sweating in moderate-to-vigorous exercise.

Previous research has coined this the “Active Couch Potato Phenomenon:” the Employee of the Year who rides or runs to work or catches an hour at the gym but is otherwise chained to a desk by day and to the couch watching Millionaire Matchmaker marathons by night.

So what are we to do, when most of us spend nearly all of our waking hours at a computer?

Move It

Don’t throw in the (gym) towel just yet. Dr. Genevieve Healy, a research fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia, who led the study, offers good news. “Our research showed that even small changes, which could be as little as standing up for one minute, might help to lower this health risk,” she explains. And your boss shouldn’t complain, because it doesn’t need to interfere with your work: “It is likely that regular breaks in prolonged sitting time could be readily incorporated into the working environment without any detrimental impact on productivity,” she adds.

Healy advises office-bound types to adopt the mantra “stand up, move more, more often” and try baby steps like these to incorporate movement into the workday (unfortunately, we’re pretty sure that the mad dash for the last Krispy Kreme in the break room doesn’t count):

  • Stand up to take phone calls. Rather than kicking your feet up on your desk for the conference call, stand up while you chatter. Better yet, do a couple of stretches.
  • Walk to see a colleague. Next time you pick up the phone or start to fire off an email, take a stroll down the hallway instead.
  • Have “standing” meetings. Remove the chairs so that everyone has to be on their feet (this will probably keep meeting time to a minimum, too!) Won’t fly in your office? Encourage regular breaks for people to stand up during long meetings.
  • Do your business on a different floor. Any time you need to use the restroom or a vending machine, take the stairs to the level above or below you.
  • Move things away. Rearrange supplies such as trash bins and printers so they’re off of your desk and in another location—that you have to walk to.
  • Sitting Pretty: A Thing of The Past?

    As research grows in the field of “inactivity physiology,” expect your workplace to start making changes, too. Some new buildings are designed with slower elevators and attractive staircases to encourage employees to walk. And, researchers and physicians have created “walkstations” with a low speed treadmill instead of a chair, allowing cubicle-dwellers to walk their way to heart health and a slimmer silhouette whilst simultaneously sealing the deal. (Though, with prices nearing $5,000, it might take your boss some convincing.)

    Tell us! How else do you incorporate movement into the workday?

    Photo courtesy of tokyosucks.

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