Don’t let your desk job harm your health
There are plenty of ways to move throughout the day — even in a sedentary office environment
By Jessica Smith
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
We all know we should be getting more exercise. Yet with busy schedules — whether it’s kids, high intensity or multiple jobs, or something else — finding the time to be physically active can be challenging.
But just because you can’t block out an hour to run on a treadmill doesn’t mean that exercise is out of reach. As it turns out, an average workday at the office — any office — is rife with opportunities to sneak in micro workouts throughout the day that will not only keep you healthy but may also help you lose weight.
The Dangers of a Sedentary Lifestyle
So what, exactly, is so bad about sitting down all the time?
“Why do it?” asks Dr. Patricia Dietzgen, of exercising at work. “Because we’re all chained to our desks nowadays.” Dietzgen, a family medicine doctor with Kaiser Permanente in Frisco, says that a sedentary lifestyle, even just at work, increases risks for obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, among others.
“We need to move more as a population,” she says. “We’ll feel better, we’ll have more energy and zing throughout the day.”
Lack of circulation from sitting for extended periods can, in time, lead to serious consequences, such as increased blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
When flowing adequately, blood circulation not only brings oxygen and nutrients to muscles and organs, but clears away fats in the blood stream, moves helpful white blood cells around and clears out your lymph nodes, getting rid of germs and boosting your immune system.
Additionally, sitting takes a toll on bone strength and density, affects posture and muscle strain, and increases likeliness of weight gain. Falling into sedentary bad habits can create a ripple effect across your life, leading to fatigue, poor food choices and potentially weight gain.
Creating Attainable Goals
Fortunately, breaking bad habits is possible and can be done by making small yet meaningful changes. “I like trying to set these small, little attainable goals,” Dietzgen says. “It makes your workday a little more fun, too.”
During her workday, Dietzgen sets a timer on her watch that goes off every 15 minutes, reminding her to stretch or stand or be active in some way. Below are some tips Dietzgen offers for creating a more healthy, less sedentary office environment.
Tip One: Plan Out Your Food
Give yourself healthy food options in the office by bringing a healthy lunch rather than going out or eating from the shared food table, which often offers unhealthy items such as donuts, cookies and pizza.
If you need your caffeine in the morning, take your coffee black or consider caffeinated tea in lieu of an overly sweetened drink.
Got a snack drawer? Throw out sugary temptations and replace it with healthy options such as fruits and veggies. “If you don’t buy it, you don’t eat it,” Dietzgen says of unhealthy foods.
Tip Two: Walk Whenever Possible
If it’s a nice day and you live close enough, walk to work (or hop on your bike). If not, park at the end of the parking lot and walk yourself to the front door.
If your office has stairs, take them instead of the elevator. Even if you can only walk a few stairs at a time before getting winded, Dietzgen says that setting small goals helps. Make a goal to take five steps before getting winded, then six and so on. Eventually, she says, you will begin to notice a difference.
Another option is to hold walking meetings, in which everyone gathers for a stroll around the block instead of sitting in a conference room. Or if that’s not possible, even a standing meeting, without chairs, helps improve circulation.
Tip Three: Keep Moving
“There are a lot of exercises you can do if you’re trapped at your desk,” Dietzgen says.
First of all, remember to stretch. Move your arms and legs, wiggle your toes and fingers. Go online to find websites with various easy stretches to do at a chair or desk.
Try replacing your chair with an exercise ball, which strengthens core muscles. Try a standup desk, to keep you vertical and improve posture.
On your way to the copier? Try some gentle lunges. While at the copier, work your muscles by jogging in place, doing toe raises or even a few pushups against the wall — whatever you’re comfortable with.
Tip Four: Engage Co-workers
While some people might feel nervous about doing these little actions in front of co-workers, Dietzgen suggests using it as a way to involve them as well. Create a game or competition to encourage each other to move more, take more stairs, etc. Or just take a quick break from work for a mind-clearing, friendly walk around the office or around the block.
Keep moving to stay healthy By taking on any of the habits above, people are making a difference in their day-to-day health. Some, especially those who previously led a very sedentary lifestyle, may soon start to notice weight loss as well.
However, Dietzgen cautions that these small workday activities, while helpful, should not replace regular exercise. After-work hikes, bike rides, gym visits and other workouts are still recommended.
“You sure feel better at the end of the day,” Dietzgen says of remaining active at work, “and more likely to jump on your bike after dinner.”
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