Have you ever thought about how long you sit throughout the work day? If you are like most Americans with sedentary jobs, that doesn’t expose you to enough movement throughout the day. Ever since the increase in the body weight of our nation, health professionals have been promoting more nutritious eating habits and physical activity as the keys to a healthy body weight and reduced risk of disease. Although eating healthfully and exercising is the right way to live, it’s not that simple for everyone to fit it in, every day.
A recent study conducted by Dr. William Tigbe from the Warwick Medical School and the University of Warwick found evidence that office or sedentary jobs are detrimental to cardiovascular health. This research showed that waist circumference increased by 2 centimeters, with the risk of heart diseases increasing by 0.2% for each additional hour spent a day sitting after 5 hours. Lack of movement can slowly creep up on us, and put us at increased risk for negative health outcomes.
We all know that exercise and movement are important for helping to reduce our risk of heart disease. Studies show that spending 7 hours a day on your feet or walking 7 miles a day is ideal for safeguarding against cardiovascular issues and maintaining a healthy weight. But in reality, few of us have time for that.
Prolonged sitting can negatively affect the body’s metabolic function, causing an array of problems besides chronic diseases. Inactivity can result in brain fog, muscle degeneration, leg disorders (poor blood circulation), soft bones, and of course weight gain. Marc Hamilton, a professor of inactivity physiology at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA noted that even the smallest contractile movements throughout the day are important for good health.
How can physical activity benefit your work-day, and how can you fit it in? Well, to start you will feel better when you move. Exercise releases the “feel good” hormones; Endorphins, Serotonin, and more. Endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, like that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life. Serotonin is our primary “happy hormone” and contributes to our feelings of happiness, wellness, and contentment. Serotonin is used to transmit messages between nerve cells, it is thought to be active in constricting smooth muscle. As the precursor for melatonin, it helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles and the internal clock.
Exercise improves your cognition! This applies to those of us experiencing brain fog: exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills. In a study done at the University of British
Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
So, how do you manage to squeeze in physical activity throughout the workday? Here are our top tips to help everyone fit activity into a busy lifestyle:
- Stand/Walk/Bike to work: This may not work for everyone, but if you commute via public transportation, avoid finding a seat. If you work close enough to walk or bike, try to incorporate that into your commute a couple of days a week to start. Even if you can’t walk/bike to work, what about on the way home? Bring a pair of work-out clothes/shoes to keep in your office.
- Fitness Breaks: Instead of taking a coffee break or during lunch, incorporate a few laps on your way to or from the break-room, take the stairs whenever possible, enjoy the nice weather with a brisk walk after finishing your lunch.
- Stand while at work: Whenever you see an opportunity to get out of that computer chair, take it! Stand while talking on the phone, walk to your coworker’s desk rather than emailing or calling, invest in a standing desk, or a tool to raise your computer at your desk, if possible.
- Schedule “walking meetings”: Rather than meeting in the board-room – meet at the door and take a walking meeting! The movement will help get your blood flowing, and you may come up with ideas more quickly/solve problems more easily.
- Keep workout gear at your desk: A couple resistant bands or small weights can be simple ways to include strength training while on a conference call or between meetings. Check out our favorite desk exercises.
- Plan for business trips: Investigate the hotel you will be staying in and if it includes a fitness room or pool. Instead of sitting and waiting for your delayed flight to show up, go for a walk around the terminal. Always pack sneakers!
- Involve your coworkers: It is much easier to stick to a regimen if you have others involved in the activity as well. Talk to your colleagues and form a fitness group. You could plan 10-15 min walks around the building with them, and walking meetings. If you have a competitive office environment, what about a walking or activity challenge? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about our custom wellness challenges.
Even small changes (200 more steps per day) can ladder up to long term health benefits. Need a little more inspiration? Check out Dave’s Story. By adding movement into your day, you will have more energy, possible weight loss from burning more calories, and improvement in your body’s metabolic functions. So, what are you waiting for? Go talk to your coworker from across the building, and schedule your first walking meeting!