According to the CDC, many of us with sedentary jobs are not getting enough physical activity. With the chaos and pressure that each day brings, it can be very easy to forget to move your body! But you should know that a sedentary lifestyle can have many detrimental effects on your physical and mental well-being. The good news is there are several things you can do to mitigate the effects of sedentary work.
Please note that if you have any health issues or physical limitations, you should consult with a doctor before engaging in any exercise program.
What is Sedentary Work?
Based on US Federal regulations, sedentary work can be defined as:
“…lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.”
This should be easy to understand and odds are that this describes your job if you work in an office. Sitting at a desk all day and working on a computer requires very little physical effort. As such, we may not be engaged in enough physical activity throughout the day. That’s why it is important to be mindful of your daily routine and ensure that you’re getting enough physical activity. Furthermore, you should also be concerned with the effects of prolonged sitting.
Fitting Physical Activity into a Sedentary Work Day
The CDC states that you should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week (more is better). Given this, you should be targeting 25-30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on a daily basis. Moderate-intensity activity can include a brisk walk, riding a bike less than 10 miles per hour, and gardening.
Moderate-Intensity exercises will generally increase your heart rate, but you should still be able to breathe and talk easily and shouldn’t necessarily be sweating. So with that in mind, there are ways to get some physical activity while you’re at the office.
Going for a Brisk Walk
Going for a daily mid-morning or afternoon brisk walk is an easy choice and an easy option. A brisk walk is generally a pace of 3 to 3.5 miles per hour, but this is also relative to your level of fitness. In any case, it should be faster than your normal pace, and you should feel your heart rate increase.
You should target a 10-15 minute timeframe (about a half-mile), which perfectly fits in a short break. Depending on where you work, it may be feasible to take this outside. In that case you can use google maps to chart a course that fits within your timeframe. If going outside isn’t an option, perhaps your building is large enough that you can map out a course indoors!
For an even better experience, find a coworker who wants to join you on these daily walks. This will provide a great opportunity for some internal networking, plus having a walking partner helps keep you accountable!
Take the Stairs
If you work in a building with stairs, this presents a great opportunity to take a break from your sedentary work and engage in some more moderate intensity activities. Find the nearest staircase or stair well and get to stepping!
Much like going for a walk, you shouldn’t be straining yourself to the point of sweat or heavy breathing. Start off slow and one step at a time. The point isn’t to strain yourself, but to feel a slight burn in your legs and have your heart rate increase. You shouldn’t be sweating and you should be able to speak easily.
If going up the stairs is too difficult, take an elevator to the top floor and just go down the stairs. There are still benefits from doing this and it’s easier than going up.
Office Cardio Circuit
If you’re looking for something a little different, you can do a very simple circuit training workout. This can be done at your desk or in another part of the building. The circuit is comprised of the following workouts:
- Desk or Wall Pushups
- Chair Dips (be sure to use a stationary chair!)
- Chair Leg Lifts
- Calf Raises
Do each exercise for 20 seconds, and take a 15 second break before moving on to the next exercise. If you do this circuit twice, it will take a little over 5 minutes. Remember, the key is not to exert yourself to the point of sweating or heavy breathing. So, don’t push yourself too hard; go easy until you get a feel for the difficulty of the exercises and you should not be straining or breathing heavy.
If you’re not a fan of any of the workouts in the list or are afraid you might look ridiculous doing them, there are several other options you can explore. So, feel free to mix it up!
Prolonged Sitting is also Bad for You
The mere act of sitting for prolonged periods can be detrimental to your health in multiple ways. Sedentary work can mean spending 6-8 hours a day sitting, and this has been associated with an increase in risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and may shorten your life.
If you find yourself spending the majority of the workday sitting at a desk, you may want to consider some options for getting out of your chair. You should start by setting a goal to be out of your chair for 2 hours during the workday, and gradually work up to 4 hours. This is based on recommendations from the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Every office is different, and people may face challenges when it comes to standing at work. But there are ways to incorporate standing and movement as part of your daily routine. You should be looking
Use a Standing Desk
Standing desks are becoming increasingly popular and perhaps you are using one at your office currently. There are several options to choose from these days, and they are a great way to work on your feet while mitigating the risks of sedentary work.
If you can get an adjustable standing desk, this will allow you to switch between sitting and standing. Try to start by standing for 15 to 30 minutes at a time and work up from there. You should also be mindful of your posture.
Studies have shown there are benefits to using a standing desk, but you should also be aware that standing bring its own consequences as well. So you should really take this slow up front and adjust to suit your level of comfort.
Stand or Walk During Phone Calls
Unless you need to be on your computer and reviewing a document or email during the conversation, a phone call is another opportunity to get off your feet! This is done more easily if you have a hands-free earpiece.
It should be stated that there are other benefits to standing while you’re on the phone. This includes sounding more confident and speaking more clearly. Furthermore, if you’re standing away from your computer, you’ll be less distracted by notifications and better able to give your undivided attention to whomever you’re speaking with.
A lot of people are starting to see the benefits of going for a walk while having a meeting. As the name implies, you basically have a meeting while walking instead of sitting down in a conference room (as is typical with sedentary work). This is perfect for one on ones, status reports, and other generalized meetings that don’t require more than one or two other people.
As is the case with standing during a phone call, there are reports that walking meetings also provide added benefits that go beyond your health. This includes and increase in cognitive engagement and creativity. Furthermore, walking with coworkers has been shown to increase productivity and enhance camaraderie due to the release of endorphins.
Not only are you getting a meeting out of the way, but you’re also getting in some moderate-intensity exercise!
It becomes very easy for sitting to become a daily habit when doing sedentary work. That’s why it’s important to recognize that a sedentary lifestyle is not healthy in the long run. If you’re having trouble with getting started or are struggling with motivation, use an app or calendar on your phone to set daily reminders for yourself. Also, it helps with accountability if you find co-workers who will join in you in this endeavor.
Sedentary work is a fact of life for many of us, but this doesn’t mean that we have to succumb to the detrimental effects to our health. So take control of your day and get moving!