It seems like you can’t turn your office swivel chair without bumping into a study pronouncing how harmful prolonged sitting is. A recent one published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute goes so far as to say that people who spend more hours of the day sitting than standing increase their risk for developing cancer by a whopping 66 per cent. Add to that the statistics on obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and the state of employee health and wellbeing begins to look bleak.
Just like the brake and gas pedals in a car, physical activity and sedentary behaviour function separately – simply exercising more outside of work won’t negate the fact that you just spent eight or more hours sitting. So what’s a desk jockey to do? Turns out, there are some creative yet simple ways to increase your level of physical activity while decreasing the amount of time you spend sitting, all from the comfort of your office.
Deskercise at the office
There are a number of easy (and discreet) exercises you can do at your desk. It’s easy to perform a quick set of leg extensions, calf raises, tricep dips or sitting abdominal crunches while you hammer out a sales report. Do a few bicep curls with that heavy employee conduct manual, then end with some nice chair sits.
Stand as much as you can
Standing desks are no longer just for the office eccentric; they are becoming a big hit with workers everywhere, and for good reason: One 2012 study found that if the average person reduced his or her sitting time to three hours per day, life expectancy would climb by two years. If your company has the funds, request either an adjustable standing desk or a chair that can be pulled up to a tall desk when you need to sit. Ease into the habit of standing for the majority of the day until your body adjusts to the new strain.
Initiate a ‘walking meeting’
Get your meetings moving – literally. Although they aren’t well-suited for large gatherings, when the group is small, consider taking a turn around the block instead of staying in the meeting room. Just 30 minutes of walking each day can decrease the risk of developing dementia, breast and colon cancer, and heart disease. Beyond that, walking meetings get the creative juices flowing – researchers from Stanford University in the US found that creative output of participants increased by an average of 60 per cent while they were walking. The results were the same whether the walk was indoors or outdoors, so even a short walk around the office is beneficial.
Mobile apps can help with everything, from tracking how many steps you take a day to preventing tobacco use, improving mental wellbeing and promoting healthy eating. Some track personal fitness while others are ideally suited for getting whole teams involved. Bonus: it’s easy to find free ones as well. Find one that fits into your life or the health and wellbeing goals you want to achieve. VicHealth has a rating system for a range of health and wellbeing apps, and there are some good lists here and here.
And when you do have to sit …
Make sure you’re sitting right. When sitting for prolonged periods of time, the natural tendency is to slouch over the desk or down in a chair. This can cause spinal injuries and worsen back pain. Instead, adjust devices so they sit at eye-level. Elbows should rest on the desk at a 90-degree angle, your back should be flat against the chair back and supported, feet should rest flat on the floor (use a footrest if you have to), and try rocking back and forth periodically to relieve stress on the body. Yoga balls are a popular seat swap, with the added bonus of a core workout thrown in.