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Written by July 23, 2012

Julene Fleurmond, MPH (candidate)

Intern
The Cooper Institute

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Don’t Be a Desk Potato – Ways to Get Moving on the Job

If you work in an office you might be doing something that could seem ordinary and necessary but can be hazardous to your health: sitting. We often hear warnings about avoiding couch-potato tendencies in front of the television but what if your job requires you to sit in front of the computer screen from 9-5?

I’ve worked at a desk for several hours a day for most of my life – from sitting in class as a student to now doing most of the work pertaining to my career on a computer. After years of putting in long hours in front of screens I’ve felt the physical effects, from neck pain after a night of typing a paper, to occasional aches and numbness in my wrists and legs which I’ve been able to control with stretches and exercise. Recently I’ve been hearing more reports on the lasting and even more dangerous health effects that long periods of sitting may have.

Several studies have shown a link between sedentary behavior and the increased risk for health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. There have been a number of recent studies, including one following Australian adults, that also show that sitting for long periods of time can be detrimental to your health even if you do physical activity at other times during the week.1

Previously on our blog we discussed how even when you are getting the recommended amount of physical activity (150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week) prolonged sessions of sitting can take years off of your life and lead to chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity and cardiovascular disease. 2 These findings show the importance of moving more and limiting the amounts of time you do sit throughout the day even if you do get a regular exercise routine in.

If you do have to sit at your desk for most of the day here are some tips to ensure that you are helping and not hindering your health:

  • While working it might be easy to get so focused on your work that you forget to take breaks. Set an alarm (possibly on your phone or your computer’s notification calendar) to remind you to get up every hour or so to stretch, move and walk around.
  • Stand instead of sitting while making phone calls and anytime you are able to. You may even look into getting a standing desk or height-adjustable desk attachment to elevate your computer screen. There are various options available, such as a desk with an attached shelf that I use to raise my laptop in my home office. You may be able to think of creative ways to construct your own so that you can alternate between sitting and standing while working.
  • Standing is better than sitting because standing burns more calories and increases blood flow. However moving is always better than just standing, so make every effort to get your body into action.
  • Do simple stretches and exercises in your office like walking or marching in place, arm circles (standing straight with knees relaxed lift arms to shoulder height, circle forward 10 circles then backward 10 circles; repeat twice), shoulder shrugs (sitting up straight in chair, lift shoulders up toward ears, then push them back and down. Repeat five times while breathing naturally) and knee lifts (alternate lifting the left and right knee 10 times each). Have small equipment on hand like light dumbbells or exercise bands. And if you are a registered user of TodayIWill.com click here to view more of our recommended exercises. If not, click here to join (its free!) and check out all our site has to offer.
  • Though it might seem like an out-of-the-box idea I’ve read of people who have replaced their chair with a compact treadmill at their standing workstation and do moderate walking while working – how’s that for multi-tasking?
  • Find a reason to get up and walk throughout the day. Visit a co-worker’s office instead of emailing them. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • During lunch, walk to a nearby restaurant to eat instead of taking the car, or pack a healthy meal and take a walk during the time you save by not eating out.
  • At home when watching TV get up and move around during the commercials and even during the program – it may be yet another way to get in your workout and multi-task.

Remember that the human body was meant to move, not to sit stationary for hours on end. Make every effort to stay in motion for the short-term physical relief from aches and stiffness, and the improved longevity and quality of your life.

1)      Van der Ploeg HP, Chey T, Korda RJ, Banks E, Bauman A. (2011). Sitting time and all-cause mortality risk in 222,497 Australian adults. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(6):494-500.  doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2174.

2)      Katzmarzyk  PT, Church TS, Craig CL, & Bouchard C. (2009). Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. MSSE, 41(5), 998-1005.

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