You might have seen photos floating around on Instagram of me taking walks, doing yoga or admiring the fruit basket on my desk. Ever since I started a relatively sedentary job (PhD), and thereby joined a world that most adults live in (a sedentary existence for 6 to 8 hours per day), being fit & active is no longer a given.
On the up side, I have become creative in finding ways to stay active throughout the workday – and think it could be very valuable for all of us to create more dialogue about this subject at the work place.
Lack of activity in Western lifestyle
Lack of physical activity is a major factor contributing to Western lifestyle diseases. Everything we have ever had to do is facilitated for us, so we sit and get sick – and maybe exercise for an hour per week. We don’t have to run for or from our food. There is no need to walk an hour when you can catch (and afford) the bus. The only things we build are online databases, and even the coffee beans at the office grind themselves.
Scientifically speaking, exercising at one point in the day is not an effective antidote for sitting during the rest! For most health benefits, it’s best to keep moderately active every 30 minutes to an hour. People living in Blue Zones and following the Mediterranean lifestyle apply moderate exercise all throughout the day.
Less exercise, less energy
Too tired to do anything but sit on the couch after work? This could be due to your sedentary work space. In fact, long periods of physical inactivity can leave you feeling tired, which can lead to a vicious circle of inactivity. You can and should break this cycle by taking steps to become more active all throughout your work day.
Heart health and diabetes
Regular physical activity will help keep you healthy! Lack of physical activity leads to increased risk of many diseases, including heart disease, blood artery disease, diabetes type 2 and thrombosis. Obviously regular physical activity can help you control body weight. More good news: diabetes patients (type 1 or 2) can benefit from increased physical activity by experiencing better control of their blood sugars.
Dealing with colleagues who do not exercise
If you work in a hospital, or other non-fancy workplaces – without standing desks, bicycles in the office, group walks during lunch time, standing meetings, group fitness with colleagues etcetera – then you might be the odd duckling trying to be more active. Others might laugh at you and you might want to laugh at yourself too. However, there is one thing to always remember: you are a beautiful person and your health matters.
Smart ways to fit exercise into your work day
Stay healthy and fit! Every half an hour, get up and do something active. Choose an activity appropriate for your work environment:
- stand up and stretch your arms above your head
- walk to the coffee corner for a cup of water or tea
- walk to the staircase and walk one flight of stairs up/down and back (no one needs to know)
- walk over to a colleague instead of calling
- take your coat and go outside for a 10 minute brisk walk (you’ll be more productive after)
- use a desk bike to pedal while seated at your desk (just make sure to buy a silent one to not disturb colleagues)
- go to a swimming pool during lunch hour
- stand while organizing your administration papers
- toss a soft ball around the office for 5 minutes with a colleague – you can even brainstorm about a project during this activity (just don’t break anything)
- together with a group of colleagues, hire a yoga or fitness instructor to come over for half an hour every (other) day
- in fact, check whether your workplace already offers yoga or fitness classes for co-workers
- schedule your meetings in such a way that you are never seated for longer than 2 hours and that you can often commute from one part of the building to the other (having all your meetings in one place might be saving you time but it is not benefiting your health)
- be creative – which activity doesn’t distract from work, while allowing you to bring activity into your work day every half an hour?
I use many of the actions listed above to keep active during the work day. During intensive projects, I often use activity throughout the day as a way of keeping a focused and clear mind.
So, in fact, maybe having a sedentary job makes me healthier than I’ve ever been before!
Best of luck,
Ana | MD and PhD student on vitality & longevity
Greatist.com Deskercise! 33 Smart Ways to Exercise at Work