Realistic Strategies to Counteract Sitting all Day at Work
You’ve probably already heard that “sitting is the new smoking”. While this is a bit dramatized by the media (smoking is still far worse for you than sitting), there is still very clear evidence that sitting in a sedentary state for extended periods of time is harmful to your health.
Being sedentary and sitting at your desk through a whole workday (i.e. 8 or more hours per day) can lead to increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. The best way to counteract the health risks associated with sitting all day is by breaking up the sedentary periods and integrating physical activity throughout your day. Thankfully, there are some pretty simple ways to do just that.
We'll tell you how to counteract sitting all day at work and give you some low-effort strategies you can start using today in this article.
Sitting vs. Sweating
There is a distinct difference between spending less time sitting and spending more time being physically active. This is an important distinction to make because people of all fitness levels can (and probably should) find ways to be more active at the office, even if you aren't ready to break a sweat.
Spending less time sitting could include less strenuous activities like standing or walking around the office.
A workout includes any physical activity of an intensity that you start sweating and find it harder to breathe or find yourself out of breath as a result of vigorous exercises.
More intense physical activity has numerous health benefits including better sleep, mental health, cardiovascular health, and stronger bones and joints, so it's something most experts recommend. Ideally, adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should aim to accumulate a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise per week, or 30 minutes for each of the 5 days in any given work week.
But remember, any and all movement is better than none at all. Even just breaking up sitting periods with light activity can have health benefits, so don’t be intimidated by these numbers. Read on and you’ll see how simple incorporating physical activity into your regular workday can be!
Active Desks and Workstations
Desks that can transition to a standing height have become increasingly popular. There’s good reason for this, as intermittently standing throughout the day, even for just 5 minutes out of every half hour, can significantly reduce the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
Going a step further, there are also desks that can incorporate something like a treadmill or a stationary bike. These tools would provide an even greater cardiovascular benefit, even if you only exert a self-perceived light intensity effort, you're taking a step toward a more active lifestyle which can have significant benefits.
The main benefit of incorporating an active desk into your work space means that you don’t have to take time away from your desk to get some physical activity in. This can be especially important for folks who feel like they don’t have the time to leave their desk for a short walk or a workout. We have an entire section of this site dedicated to active workstations if you'd like to learn more.
Meetings on the Move
Instead of sitting through meetings, find which ones you could turn into standing or walking meetings. You could even schedule these meetings at a nearby coffee shop that you could walk to and from together to make the meeting an opportunity for physical activity.
This can be easier for smaller meetings, phone calls, or teleconferences. Take a phone or tablet with you to quickly type reminder notes for yourself or even use voice recognition services such as Google or Siri to send yourself a note or a reminder. Another alternative would be to sit down for the final 10-15 minutes of the meeting to summarize the conversation and document any action items.
Even breaking up sedentary periods with a short light-intensity walk for just 3 minutes out of every half hour has shown significant beneficial effects on metabolic parameters, which are used to assess risk for type 2 diabetes. Imagine what a 20-30 minute walk once or twice a day over your lunch break or during a meeting could do!
Sneak it In
Some other more subtle and sneaky ways to get a few extra steps into your day include:
Try an Active Commute
There are creative ways to get moving at your desk even if you don’t have an active desk or transitioning desk. Body weight exercises such as squats, lunges, calf raises, and standing leg curls are simple to do at your desk and they have been proven to have a big impact. You can even follow along with deskercise videos on Youtube during a work break.
As an optional addition, bring some exercise bands to work to incorporate into deskercises for an added challenge. Strategic placement of an exercise band around your thighs while you squat can activate extra muscle groups. Longer exercise bands can be used for effective arm and shoulder exercises as well that can otherwise be difficult to incorporate into a deskercise routine.
Not ready to start doing squats and lunges in front of all your coworkers?
Stretches at your desk are important for improving and maintaining mobility and flexibility. Muscles can quickly get stiff from spending so many hours at a desk. Particularly neck and shoulder muscles as well as the muscles around your hips and bottom.
Take a break to stand up and go through a series of simple stretches from top to toe, then get back to work. Many companies mandate regular stretch breaks for all employees to help avoid soft-tissue injuries, so your boss might love it if you volunteered to lead a few of these during the work day to get your department up on their feet and moving.
Invite Your Colleagues to Join an Intramural Sports League
Recreational sports leagues are an excellent way to get active throughout the week as well as spend some fun social time with coworkers or friends. There is such a diverse array of sports that have just-for-fun leagues, such as dodgeball, basketball, ultimate frisbee, hockey, baseball, and so many more, and there are other activities such as golf which you can easily organize once a week with coworkers or friends.
Even if you’re not really all that into sports, you can form a lunchtime walking group with coworkers. Being active as a group helps to keep everyone accountable and can make it more enjoyable, perhaps even something to look forward to that breaks up the more mundane parts of your job.
Get you coworkers on board to get everyone moving!
They Call it HouseWORK for a Reason
Even after leaving the office, there are many activities of daily living that can be quite strenuous without even having to make time to go to the gym. Yard work such as raking the leaves, mowing the lawn, or shovelling snow can all help you to work up a sweat and work a diverse set of muscles.
Indoor housework like sweeping or mopping the floors, carrying and folding the laundry, and other tidying tasks can also get your heart pumping. If you're looking for ways to stay active take on more of these chores -- your significant other will probably love it!
Hit the Gym
The more traditional route of the gym can offer higher intensity workouts that can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time with similar benefits to longer but less intense workouts. So if you’re all about efficiency and bang for your buck, a 30 minute high intensity workout each day through the work week might be an effective way to get your workout in and then any extra movement throughout the day is just a bonus.
If you find it hard to stay accountable with the gym routine, then always keep gym clothes in your car or at work. For some, just getting into the gear and getting there can be half the battle.
Now that You Know How to Counteract Sitting All Day at Work ... Move it or Lose it!