I’ve always considered myself an active person. I joined my first gym at age twelve (my mom lied and told them I was fourteen to get around the age limit––a terrible idea, but that’s another story), and spent my high school years as a ballerina dancing nearly 20 hours per week. In college I stopped dancing but focused more on the gym, then dabbled in tennis, then long-distance running in graduate school.
As an adult I settled into a comfortable routine of working at my desk or lab bench, then spending at least an hour at the gym 5-6 days per week. Most of us would not consider this a sedentary lifestyle, and indeed it is far more active than most Americans. Unfortunately, spending long stretches of time sitting throughout the day is considered sedentary and has been shown to increase metabolic risk and mortality, even in normal weight and otherwise active people. And that meant me. Scary, right?
Because extended bouts of computer time and frequent meetings are so common, it benefits all of us to find ways to limit or break up our sitting time. Here are some practical tips to reduce our desk time and improve quality of life at the office.
7 Realistic Ways to Be Less Sedentary at Work
1. Limit email
How much time do you spend on email each day? Two hours? Four hours? It’s disgusting isn’t it? Believe it or not there are ways to limit this life-sucking activity to just a fraction of the time you spend now. My first big eye-opener about email came when I read Tim Ferriss’ first book, The 4-Hour Work Week. Most of us use email as a default crutch that we return to every few minutes like trained monkeys. We intuitively understand that this is inefficient, yet we do it anyway. Stop multitasking, limit email to certain times a day and watch your discretionary time soar. Then use it to get out of your desk and move around a little more.
2. Walking meetings
Meetings are the other huge time sink in the workplace, and they have a tendency to fill every second you aren’t wasting on email. Whenever possible, suggest walking meetings instead of conference room meetings. Walking meetings are ideal for small groups of 2-3 people, and can have a tremendous impact on the amount of time you spend active during the day, and even improve the efficiency of your discussion. Win-win.
3. Eat lunch away from your desk
I know, I know. You’re busy. There’s lots to do. Why not get a little extra work done during your lunch hour and go home a few minutes earlier? Don’t kid yourself, working through lunch does not make you more productive. Not only does your brain need rest to perform optimally, but making an effort to leave your desk and have a proper lunch will both get you moving and help encourage mindful eating. If you are serious about increasing productivity, focus more on point #1.
4. Standing desk
Standing and treadmill desks have become far more popular and are no longer the impractical, esoteric recommendation they used to be. But even if you’re stuck with a regular sit-down desk, chances are you have a laptop you can use to migrate to the counter every once in awhile. Finding a table top that’s the right height can be a little tricky, but if you can pull it off then breaking up your day between sitting and standing can easily become a reality.
5. Drink more water
“Drink more water” is a common health goal and New Year’s resolution. Kill two birds with one stone by filling up your water glass more often at the office. Bonus: add even more activity with the extra bathroom trips. Boo-yah!
6. Take the stairs
It sounds cliche, but taking the stairs really is a fantastic way to be more active and most of us still don’t do it. If you need extra motivation, it also does amazing things for your legs and backside. (Boys, us ladies appreciate a good rear as much as you do.)
7. Desk pedal
If there really is no way around being chained to your desk for most of the day, consider investing in an under-desk foot pedal. They aren’t as sexy as standing desks, but they can get your legs moving and are fairly discreet. I’ve seen them on Amazon for as low as $20.
How do you avoid being sedentary at work?
Originally published August 26, 2013.