Many of us today do not have jobs where we are outside and staying active throughout the day. Rather, we are confined to desks and sit for the majority of our day and are what is defined as sedentary. What compounds this inactivity is that with the daily stress of working all day and then commuting at home many of us are tired and spend the night sitting or lying down relaxing and watching television and this can have a variety of negative health implications for us.
From increased likelihood of health risks such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, there is scientific evidence that suggests that this type of lifestyle is one of the main contributing causes to poor health. One study explains how sedentary time is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality; the strength of the association is most consistent for diabetes. And another identifies a correlation between sitting at work with a desk job and obesity as it contributes to inactivity whereas on leisure days, people are more physically active.
That sedentariness has been associated with obesity due to people’s inactivity in the workplace also means that there is a potentially important opportunity to help reverse inactivity and obesity by being active at the workplace. We could all potentially counteract the negative effects by embracing and implementing intervention strategies throughout the day that ensure that we do not fall into the trap of sedentariness and remain active throughout the day.
This is obviously easier said than done and difficult to achieve when you are working with deadlines. It is all well and good to say that people should take breaks and be mindful of their activity levels but sometimes it is difficult to take the appropriate amount of time to leave your desk and walk around, for instance. Nevertheless, it is recommended that the most effective means of counteracting this is the interrupt long periods of sitting with short breaks, for instance, interrupting sitting every 30 min by standing for at least five minutes.
What Can You Do?
Now that we understand that while working at a desk may be necessary, taking breaks to stand and walk around is just as important for your health. You can be conscious of how long you are sitting and make a note of getting in some brief stints of activity to break the cycle.
There are also a number of alternative strategies that we will expand on further that will help you to remain active and stay healthy.
We have taken time to explain this before, but it must be said again that taking breaks is key to achieving the necessary amount of activity in your life throughout the day. If you spend all the day sitting, working and eating then you are not doing yourself any good and it is more likely than being sedentary for long stretches will only increase your inactivity and make it harder to be consistently active. Break up your day, even if it means a longer bathroom break or walking to the water cooler and hanging around there for a minute or so longer than usual just so that you can stretch out your muscles.
Another way to do this is to take “smoke breaks” as well. People who smoke are usually afforded small periods of time where they can go outside and smoke, have a bit of a walk around, and if you don’t smoke then there’s no reason why you can do this as well. It’ll also allow you to clear your head and gain a little bit more energy to get back to your tasks. Without any breaks you may see your own work performance drop because you aren’t allowing yourself the necessary time to step away from work for a short amount of time.
Use the Stairs
If you work somewhere that has elevators, don’t believe the hype. There are usually stairs as well, but how many times to you actually use them? The stairs can be a great way of giving yourself an “excuse” to be active and, although brief, your body will thank you for the extra physical exertion.
There’s no reason why you can’t take some time to walk up or down the stairs rather than staying stagnant in the lift. And another bonus is that you stand no chance of being the victim of a technical malfunction and suffering the embarrassment of being stuck in a lift and having to be rescued.
Park Further Away
We’re not sure of the layout of your office, but you surely have parking spaces where many people put a premium on getting the closest spots so that they don’t have to walk that extra bit to get to work. Don't be that person.
Parking further away means more steps and more activity. It also means that you can play a little game with yourself where maybe you start parking a little further away and then increasing the distance accordingly. You’re going to be “lazy” sitting at your desk for most of the day so why not do the opposite to get your day started?
Pack Your Own Healthy Lunch
You must know by now that nutrition is just as important for your health and weight as actual exercise is, and at work it’s easy to fall into a trap. Being sedentary in your activity can mean that you also pick up bad habits by eating foods that are poor in quality but convenient because you can eat it quick, in all of its greasy goodness, and then get back to work. You’re probably even driving to get in, going through the drive-thru, and getting back to work without having moved a muscle.
Packing your own healthy lunch will mean more energy for one thing because healthier foods are better for you and mean more energy and not just sugary spikes in your blood pressure that will give you a short-term boost. It’ll also mean that you are aware of what you’re putting into your body and when it comes to any eating plan the nutritional content of the food is key. Last, but not least, you’ll be saving your hard-earned cash. It’s much cheaper wake up a little earlier to prepare your own food than eating out every day.
Track Your Activity
Activity trackers are not a fad, they’re what’s driving people from all walks of life to upping their daily activity and reaching their goals. An activity tracker, whether it’s on your wrist or on your phone, is a good way of seeing how much you’re actually doing during the day and where you can improve. There’s also the added sense of guilt linked to not achieving your daily goals.
Set one up for yourself and starts with easily achievable goals before moving on to ones that are a bit more challenging. You’ll find that it’ll become second nature in your quest to reaching 10 000 steps to the point where you’ll only be taking half your lunch break to eat because the rest of it requires you going for a short walk so that you stay on track.
Stretching aids you with improving flexibility, balance and reduces your chances of injury. It is also an effective technique for warming up your muscles and increasing the range of motion of your joints. Throughout the day, you can stretch in order to ensure that your activate your muscles and stay loose.
· Focus on your neck
- Sitting hunched over at a desk is not only bad for your posture but has a negative impact on your neck as well. Neck pain can often aggravate joints and soft tissues causing neck and back pain. Some patients can develop poor posture of the head, neck, and shoulders through repetitive work tasks and/or poor sitting habits.
- To counteract this, you should focus on your posture and looking straight ahead, trying not to keep your neck in one position for an extended period of time such as when you’re leaning over and looking to one side. You can do basic stretches such as tilting her head to the side and holding it in place for 10 seconds, then doing the other side, to keep your neck flexible.
· Raise your arms
- Raising your arms above your head and reaching for the sky is similar to a yoga sun salutation that will release any pressure caused by sitting in one place for too long. It will relax your shoulders, where a lot of pressure gathers, and by taking a few seconds to inhale and exhale you’ll feel ready to get back to your work at hand.
· Keep your posture in mind
- Poor posture is probably one of the most talked about things when it comes to people in this day and age. We are either stuck sitting at our desks or walk hunched over, when we should be walking upright and confidently.
- Try doing stretches where you place your hands behind you while sitting on your chair and pushing your chest outwards, feeling your back clench. Don’t do this to the point where it is sore. Being continuously mindful of how you sit upright throughout the day and correcting yourself when you start to hunch is an effective way of keeping your posture straight. When walking, a good posture means that you’ll be taller and look more confident, which is a bonus as well.
· Twist in your chair
- An ab exercise that will strengthen your core and give your hips flexibility is doing Russian twists while sitting. You’ll only have to do a few that will probably go unnoticed by your co-workers but the benefits outweigh looking a little silly if they do see you.
- While sitting upright and straight, twisting with your abdomen to one side while keeping your legs straight, hold the pose and then repeat the same movement on your alternate side. The twist will release tension and build core strength on the go, which you’ll see build up over time assisting your balance and flexibility.
· Lift your knees
- One thing that we haven’t touched on is your legs, which stay grounded most of the day save for walking to get another cup of coffee. While sitting, you should try to get the blood flowing into your legs throughout the day.
- If you feel your knees cramping then lift them towards your chest under your desk and hold the position for each leg. You can also raise your legs and stand up and do some proper stretches that will increase the range of motion and won’t have you hobbling to your car at the end of the day with phantom limbs.
Workout at Your Desk
Stretches are an effective way to stay flexible and reduce the likelihood of you cramping from being in a sedentary position all day and there are also workouts that you can do at your desk to up the ante. Working out at your desk may look a little weird but it’s simple and easy and a good way to spend your five minute breaks.
· Standing push ups
- Standing facing a wall or pressed up against a solid surface with your palms out and body at angle, perform push ups that get you out of your desk and moving. If you are taking a 5 minute break every hour then getting in a set of 10 to 20 reps should be sufficient.
· Shoulder blade squeezes
- Back pain can really harm your wellbeing and is uncomfortable. Do shoulder blade squeezes while sitting at your desk by sitting upright, mindful of maintaining your posture, and extending both arms behind you, feeling a ‘clinch’ at your back. You can also do shrugs to massage all of the pockets of stress out of your shoulders.
· Yoga at the office
- Get your entire office involved in working out and exercising because everyone should be mindful of how important it is. Get someone who you work with that knows yoga to lead a class or convince your organisation that corporate wellness initiatives like yoga after work are crucial to keep employee morale or performance high.
- This may look a bit awkward but squats are a full body exercise that actively engages multiple muscles all at once and improves your posture and core strength. Place your hands on your desk and lower yourself down in a squatting position so that your legs are perpendicular to the ground. Repeat 20 reps, 5 times a day.
· Tricep dips
- Use your chair to build your triceps while you have a brief break at work. All you need is a chair with arms that you can place your hands on and lower yourself down to activate those muscles. You’ll be building arm strength that might even be beneficial to your typing skills.
· Leg raises
- Vast opportunity awaits underneath your desk. Sitting straight in your chair, slowly raise your legs until they are at a 90-degree angle and then slowly lower them again. Repeat as many times during the day. It will reduce the leg pain associated with being sedentary and sitting and give you something busy to do throughout the day.