Desk jobs may seem like a breeze to workers who are on their feet all day. After all, what could be better than getting paid to work while sitting — no sore feet required?
Most would agree that sitting is easier on the body than digging ditches, for example — but it’s far from ideal. Sitting all day wreaks havoc on your back, metabolism and much more.
Sadly, there's no real end in sight for desk dwellers, but there are plenty of things you can do to ensure that you stay as healthy as possible on the job.
Related Article: Sick of Sick Days? Tips to Keep Employees Happy & Healthy
The Dangers of Prolonged Sitting
Emerging research indicates that sitting is a newly identified independent risk factor for early death. The more a person sits, the greater his or her risk of several serious diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even certain types of cancer.
As noted in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, “Physical inactivity has become a major public health concern because it is the second leading single cause of death in the United States.” Some pundits have declared that “sitting is the new smoking” when it comes to health risks. Indeed, the aforementioned study notes sitting is second only to smoking as a leading cause of death in the U.S. Clearly, the stakes are high.
Investigators have even identified a relationship between time spent sitting while watching television and the risk of suffering from poor sleep quality and/or sleep apnea. Both of these conditions have been linked to worse attentiveness during daytime work hours. In short, sitting all day and night is not good for employees or employers. Not by a long shot.
Most office workers are also commuters. After sitting at a desk all day, the average office worker then spends time in his or her car. Sitting, again. This is often followed by an evening of television viewing (more sitting) before retiring for the night, then getting up and doing it all over again.
Concerns about the risks of constant sitting are not just about employee wellness, either — although wellness can certainly impact the bottom line. Workers in poor health generally have higher rates of absenteeism. Nor is it solely a question of employee quality of life.
It’s also a worker productivity issue. Research suggests workers who spend less time sitting are more engaged in their work. They are more “dedicated” and approach their work with measurably more “vigor,” according to a study published recently in BMC Public Health. Research also showed that efforts to reduce total sitting time at work can positively affect everything from back and neck pain, to employee mood.
What’s an Office Worker to Do?
Here are some tips to help you stay healthy while sitting at work:
Alter your behavior to meet daily activity goals.
Take frequent breaks. Get up and move at least once an hour, if only for a few moments. If you can’t leave your desk, at least stand and stretch briefly. Any activity is arguably better than none.
Avoid the elevator.
Instead of the elevator or escalator, take the stairs whenever possible. Think about your daily routine. Are there other ways you can sit less and walk, jog or run more often?
If you drive to work, park as far away as possible.
Extra steps add to your daily activity goal. If you live close enough, consider riding a bike. Or walk to work.
Take face-to-face meetings whenever possible.
Cell phones and email have made sedentary communication all too easy. If possible, get up and talk to a nearby colleague in person. When it’s necessary to talk on the phone, try walking or pacing while using a headset.
Re-evaluate your lunch break.
Do you have time to walk during your lunch break? Perhaps you can finish sooner and spend the rest of your break walking briskly.
A commonly accepted public health goal is to accumulate 10,000 steps daily to maintain fitness. Consider wearing a pedometer or other fitness-monitoring device to keep track of your daily activity levels. Research shows that pedometer-type devices help people stay on track toward meeting their daily activity goals.
Work fitness into your daily routine.
Can you go to the gym, pool, or court after work? It’s tempting to flop on the couch after a tiring day at work, but studies show that people who work out are actually less tired than their sedentary peers, not more.
Regular exercise is not just about fitness. It’s linked to a host of benefits, including lower body weight, lower risks of various serious illnesses; including depression and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, greater stamina, better mental focus, better sleep, and even better sex.
Get up and stretch!
Try setting regular alarms on your computer, smartphone or other digital device to remind you to get up and move every 30-60 minutes throughout the day. Stretch, walk or do calisthenics right beside your desk.
Ask about “workstation alternatives.”
Stability/balance balls engage core muscles. Sitting becomes an active — rather than passive — behavior. However, there is little objective evidence that their use yields additional energy expenditure compared to traditional seating.
Sit/Stand desks are trendy, but there’s a lack of evidence to support claims regarding additional energy expenditures versus traditional sit-down desks. They do not, however, appear to reduce worker productivity. Treadmill and pedal desks require physical activity while working. They’re among the most promising alternatives to standard desk/chair combinations.
Check your chair (and invest in a better one).
Finally, research supports the importance of a properly adjustable, supportive (ergonomic) chair for the reduction of spinal and musculoskeletal symptoms.