“Sitting all day is killing us!”
Perhaps an overly dramatic statement, but unfortunately, there is a lot of truth to it. A scientific review concerning the health effects from sitting all day has shown how it not only increases the risks for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, but it also concluded that even people who got in 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity still were not able to undo the negative effects of sitting all day.
As someone forced to sit all day in front of a computer for work, I found this concerning, but after a bit of extra research, I found you can counter the negative metabolic effects of sitting with a just few minutes of activity throughout the day.
No one said you can’t get up
The takeaway from the study is you don’t need to buy an expensive standing desk or treadmill desk to fend off the grim reaper. All you need to do is sporadically add a few minutes of movement to your day (ideally every 30 minutes). Keeping track of this might sound like a tall order, but it’s easier to do than you think if you set up your work environment properly (or improperly as the case may be).
We’ve all heard the ideas on how to increase activity in our lives by taking the stairs and parking farther away from the door (both great ideas), but that’s not going to get you out of your desk routinely enough.
I’m a big fan of efficiency in all things, so I previously set up my work environment to ensure everything I needed all day was readily available - from books (yes, I still use books) to app test devices to water to my trashcan. I was proud to say I could reach anything I needed without ever having to leave my chair. Then I realized I’ve been looking at it all wrong.
If sitting all day is bad, why was I trying to maximize my sitting? I realized moving a few things away from my desk (often into another room) could provide some quick movement breaks throughout the day without impacting my work. Taking 90 seconds to move around every 30 minutes is never going to hurt your work performance, but it will significantly extend your life and reduce your risks of developing metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.
Ways to maximize your movement
1. Ditch the wastebasket under your desk. This is a pretty easy one to get you up and moving. Don’t put a wastebasket under your desk or even in the same room. However, you have to commit to yourself to never stack trash up on your desk so you can take it all at once. Every item gets its own trip or you’ll quickly turn your desk into the wastebasket.
2. Move the printer. This one really depends on how much you need to print. If you need to print things all day, don’t create an inefficiency that will drastically slow you down. If you only need to take a few trips a day to the printer, then move it into another room so you can stretch your legs and reset your metabolism.
3. Store tools on the other side of the room. If you’re like me and still use these archaic devices known as books, move your book shelf across the room so you have to get up to grab any reference materials. Once again, you need to commit to yourself to return it to the shelf once you’re done with it or your desk will quickly become the new book shelf. You should aim for keeping your desk pristine at all times. Every tool should have it’s proper place and none of them should rest on your desk unless it’s in use.
4. Shrink your cup (or ditch it entirely). I used to keep a mini-fridge by my desk so I could easily reach my water. This had two problems that I’m happy to be rid of. For one, it kept me rooted to my chair, but it also created an unnecessary hazard for my delicate and expensive work computer. I was always afraid I was going to tip a cup onto my laptop so I ditched the office water source entirely. If you’re thirsty, get up and go to where the water is. At the very least, get a smaller cup instead of the 32 oz monstrosities I see on most people’s desks. It will get you out of your chair more often, and any accidental spills won’t be nearly as devastating to your electronics.
5. Increase face time. Texting, iMessage, and other chat services make it easy to ask a co-worker a question without interrupting their work flow. It also makes it easier for you to multitask on your own projects while communicating with others, but quite frankly, once you hit three back and forth exchanges with more questions brewing in the back of your mind, it’s probably more convenient to finish the discussion face-to-face. When it’s obvious you’re both focused on the topic at hand, get up and go finish the conversation in person for a much needed standing break.
6. Make easy snacking harder. I’m a big fan of chewing gum. It’s been shown to help improve concentration and memory, and it’s a good way to resist the urge to snack. I had a supply readily available on my desk and then I’d spit it out in the wastebasket beneath. Moving my gum to another room forced me to get up to grab a piece and then I had to get up again to spit it out when I was done. This is true with any snack. Make it harder to grab and you’ll not only snack less throughout the day, but you’ll get a little activity break when you really want a quick bite (and another one when you need to throw any garbage away).
7. Just get up! If all else fails and you’ve been glued to your chair too long, just get up and walk for 90 seconds. The research showed that 1 minute and 40 seconds of walking every 30 minutes staved off the negative metabolic effects of too much sitting. You don’t need to sprint or even work hard, just get up, take a quick stroll, and get back to work. It’s not unreasonable to factor your health into your schedule and I find a quick little mental break helps me work through any work problems I’m trying to solve far better than staring at a computer screen. The internet is an incredible tool but it can also be a horrible distraction when you’re stuck on something. Don’t give your brain a chance to wonder in the wrong direction. Get up, take a walk, and think about the solution and it will come to you far faster than when you’re checking your Facebook or Twitter.
If anyone else has some suggestions on how to increase movement in an office environment, we would love to hear from you.