How to stay active in the workplace

Millions of us have jobs that require us to sit at desks or around conference tables for several hours per day. Many health risks are associated with sitting down for prolonged periods — but how do we stay active in the workplace? We find out.
person with feet up on their desk

Even if you are desk-bound all day at work, there are plenty of ways to stay active.

Research has demonstrated that sitting for an extended period is linked with obesitytype 2 diabetes, and an increased risk of death from heart disease and cancer.

Excessive sitting may also slow metabolism, which has an impact on the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as break down body fat.

Injecting physical activity into your working day could reduce some of the health risks that are elevated by being sedentary.

One study found that doing just 30 minutes of activity on 5 days each week — be it going to the gym, cycling to work, or going for a lunchtime walk — could prevent 1 in 12 deaths globally.

Being physically fit can also protect against some of the harms of stress in the workplace. Stress can lead to impaired mental well-being, depressive symptoms, and high blood pressure — all of which could lead to absences from work.

When working at a desk for 7–10 hours per day, finding opportunities to be active can be a challenge.

Medical News Today have compiled five top tips to help you stay active in your working day.

1. Cycle or walk to work

Depending on the location of your job and how far you work from home, try switching up how you get to and from work. Leave the car at home and cycle or walk instead.

person cycling to work

Cycling to work is linked to a reduced risk of death from all causes.

When compared with commuting to work by car or public transport, cycling to work has been linked with a reduced risk of death from all causes, and a lower cancer risk.

Both cycling and walking to work have also been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore, people who walk or cycle to work have a lower body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage in midlife than those who commute by car.

Those who actively commute to work, by foot or by bike, also benefit from improved well-being and report feeling more able to concentrate and under less strain than those who travel to work by car.

Recent findings indicate that most people hop into their cars instead of actively commuting to work due to worries about the extra time that walking or biking will take. But, when asked to estimate how long it would take to walk or bike to a common location, a majority of participants were incorrect and overestimated.

If you are overweight and inactive, cycling to work is just as effective at helping you to lose fat mass as joining a gym, according to a study by the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

A morning ride to work could be just the tonic you’re looking for if you’d like to lose weight but don’t have the time or inclination to visit a fitness center regularly.

2. Stand up regularly

Something as simple as standing up now and then while at work could help curb the related health risks of sitting for too long.

workers standing at a desk

Using a standing desk could help to improve cognitive function.

To reduce sedentary behavior and time spent sitting at work, guidance was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015 by experts.

The team concluded that office workers should stand up for at least 2 hours during their work day, with that target eventually reaching 4 hours, to break up prolonged sitting.

Researchers believe that incorporating standing and walking behaviors into the work day might be more doable for workers than targeted exercise.

Recommended work-based standing behaviors include:

  • standing or light activity for 2–4 hours during work hours for workers who are mostly desk-based
  • using sit-stand desks or standing workstations to break up sitting-based work regularly
  • avoiding prolonged static standing, which can be just as harmful as sitting for too long
  • altering posture frequently to prevent potential musculoskeletal pain and fatigue

More and more businesses are adopting the use of sit-stand desks as more evidence comes to light on their benefits.

The University of Iowa in Iowa City discovered that employees who had sit-stand desks spent 60 minutes more standing per day and burned up to 87 more calories compared with their sitting counterparts. This amount could prove significant in fighting the obesity epidemic, note the researchers.

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