Sitting is the new smoking: 5 ways to stay active at work

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It is estimated that four in five people in the UK have a desk based job. With the takeover of technology, sitting at a desk all day whilst frantically pattering our keyboards has become the norm. But research has repeatedly linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health conditions including neck and back pain, diabetes, heart disease and even some types of cancer. Lee Jones, wellbeing and ergonomics consultant offers five small changes you can make to ensure you remain active in the office.

1. Go out for lunch

With nation-wide campaigns urging us to take back our lunch break and become more ‘French’, famous for their two hour lunch breaks, the health benefits include stretching your muscles, getting some fresh air and the chance to explore all the hidden gems that our great outdoors have to offer.  “The default is that many of us will go out and grab lunch but then sit at our desks and eat it there. This is problematic because once you have eaten, your blood sugars rise and the lack of movement means tiredness, otherwise known as the afternoon slump. If you must eat at your desk then ensure you walk it off.”

London, UK - September 10, 2015: Office workers at lunch brake, in the st. Paul's cathedral park. City of London

 2. Consider an office chair with three-dimensional movement

If sitting at your desk for long periods of time is inevitable, then consider swapping that badly positioned office chair for a chair that offers three-dimensional movement. A lot of advice will point you in the direction of a balance ball but they belong in the gym. Lee points out, “working at a desk means you’re inevitably going to lean forwards and leaning on a balance ball with no back support is not going to work well long-term.” A chair with three-dimensional movement will offer the same lateral movement, mobilise your pelvis and engage your core muscles in the same way that a balance ball would, but with less pressure on your back. Lee endorses the Wilkhahn In Chair which encourages natural posture whilst seated. “From a health and safety point of view, a balance ball wouldn’t be allowed in an office because all office seats must have a base with five wheels, that’s a legal requirement in the UK.” If buying a brand new chair is not an option, then consider buying a cushion that you can place on your existing chair. “Sissel seat plus is inflatable and will give you a convex shape, similar to sitting on a balance ball, and it’s a great alternative” concludes Lee.

3. Stretch

The best way to lessen the negative effects of sitting is by frequent movements throughout the day. Stretching at your desk will help increase the length of your muscles causing a reduction in muscle tension and an increase in your normal range of movement. An extended range means additional comfort, an ability to move more freely and a reduced susceptibility to muscle strain injuries. Lee recommends the app wellnomics. “It’s completely free and the stretches are designed to be performed in an office environment. You can also customise the settings to account for any past injuries and the app will automatically change the intensity of the stretches.”

Casual businessman stretching in chair in the office

4. Ditch internal emails

Independent research highlighted that on average we spend 40% of the working week dealing with internal emails that bring no value to the business. Ditching internal emails completely might not be feasible, but consider talking it out instead. Taking a short walk to your colleagues’ desk ensures an interruption in sedentary time and can result in open and creative discussions. “All office workers should try to schedule in regular breaks, the frequency at which you should get up is five minutes for every hour. In my experience people will be seated for at least two hours at a time. The staggering fact about that is when asked what makes them get out of their chair, it will be because of a call of nature, thirst or hunger. It’s never because of discomfort. Yet I assess people who are uncomfortable every day” says Lee. “Fundamentally what you’re doing [by getting up] is changing your posture and the constant change in posture is what is going to mitigate the negative effects of sitting for too long.”

5. Embrace stair climbing

Opting to climb stairs for just two minutes a day is enough to stop average middle age weight gain and can work wonders in reducing the risks associated with sitting. Taking the stairs changes your posture, increases the efficiency of your heart and exercises the muscles that can otherwise become stiff from working in a sedentary job. Stair climbing is easy to build into your life and can become a habit. “On average it takes 21 days for a person to learn a new behaviour” says Lee. For a bonus, choose to go to a bathroom on a different floor each time and take the stairs.


AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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