Office Fitness: Simple Ways to Stay Healthy and Fit When You Work a Desk Job

The Importance of Not Sitting Too Much at the Office

Do you work out every day to make up for the time you sit at the office? Even if you’re a gym rat after work, you’re putting your health at risk when you sit too much at work. That’s what the results of several recent studies show. Even exercising an hour a day at the gym doesn’t make up for hours spent glued to a chair when it comes to your health. Office fitness and moving around while you work is important for your health and well-being regardless of your age, sex and how hard you work out once you leave your job.

Need convincing? A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that workers who sat for more than 6 hours a day were at greater risk of dying premature than more active people who sat less than 3 hours daily. Even more disturbing, working out after work doesn’t seem to make up for the negative effects of sitting too much.

The Hidden Perils of Sitting Too Much

Why is sitting for long periods unhealthy? Prolonged periods of inactivity trigger metabolic changes that boost the risk for chronic health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The take-home message? If you want to stay healthy, move around more throughout the day, especially if you work a desk job. If you work at a computer, that might sound challenging, but you don’t have to run a marathon to get the benefits. You just have to reduce the amount of time you sit during the day and break up periods of inactivity with movement.

Standing Instead of Sitting

Consider this. If you stand for five of the eight hours you spend at work instead of sitting, you’ll burn about 200 more calories a day than you would sitting. That kind of calorie-burn adds up and many people find it’s more comfortable working while standing once they get used to it. Plus, they usually have less back stiffness and fatigue. This is an example of a small change that can pay off with big health benefits.

Some people have even equipped their office with a treadmill desk, a treadmill that has a work station so they can walk at a slow pace while working. Yes, these modified treadmills even support a computer and a telephone – but you don’t have to get that fancy. Use a stack of books to elevate your computer to a level you can comfortably work while standing. Word has it that employees at companies like Google and Facebook are replacing their conventional desks with “standing desks” so they can move around more during the day. Would this work for you?

Office Fitness: Other Ways to Stay Active at the Office

Here are some other tips for staying active at the office:

Order a desk pedal machine online and place it under your desk so you can pedal while you work. You can get one for as little as $30.00, although the less expensive ones tend to shift too much when you pedal. To get a good one, you may need to spend as much as $100.00.

Spend a portion of your lunch hour walking briskly around the building or go up and down the stairs. Move around during scheduled breaks instead of heading to the break room where you’ll be tempted by the doughnut box.

Cell phones give you the freedom to walk around while you talk. Take advantage of it. Don’t sit in a chair when you talk on the phone. Walk around the building or pace around the room instead.

Set a timer on your computer to go off every 20 or 30 minutes. When it goes off, walk up and down the hall a few times. If you have a private office, do five minutes of stretching exercises or pick up the pace by jogging in place or doing a minute of jumping jacks. Bring a pair of resistance bands or light dumbbells to work and do some resistance exercises throughout the day.

Develop a fear of elevators. Walking up and down the stairs burns 5 to 15 calories per minute. Do it throughout the day, and it’ll impact your “bottom line.”

Skip the high heels. Wear comfortable shoes instead. You’ll move around more when you’re wearing shoes you can easily walk in.

The Bottom Line?

Make an effort to spend less time on your tush at work. Reducing the amount of time you sit will burn more calories and reduce your risk for health problems. It’s worth it.


Am. J. Epidemiol. (2010) 172(4): 419-429.

Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.

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