If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that computer work makes up a significant portion of your day. We’ve all heard that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ – in fact, some doctors will go so far as to say that sitting is worse than smoking. While there’s no scientific consensus on this, it’s fair to say that our bodies are designed for movement, and that movement is hugely important for our mental and physical wellbeing. With that in mind, we owe it to ourselves to reflect on our desk-working habits and incorporate more opportunities for movement during our work day.
The benefits of moving more are well-established and have been thoroughly researched. To name a few:
- Moving Releases Feel-good Brain Chemicals. Exercise, even in small doses, has emotional benefits on top of the obvious physical ones. A cocktail of happy brain chemicals are released when we train our muscles, including endorphins, endocannabinoids, and dopamine. At the same time, levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are reduced. This explains the ‘high’ people feel after exercise, and is a big reason why exercise has been shown to alleviate mood disorders.
- Moving Lowers Blood Sugar. It’s for this reason that one of the best times to take a walk is after a meal – not just to aid digestion, but as a way of managing blood sugar levels, particularly after eating food that’s heavy on carbohydrates.
- Moving Burns More Calories. A clinical trial found that people who fidgeted while standing or sitting burned between five to six times more calories than those who stayed still.
- Moving Improves Circulation. Movement of all kinds helps to keep our heart pumping well, but the best kind of activity for improving circulation is aerobic (the kind that gets your heart rate up). It can be low-impact, such as walking or a yoga class, and it could even be as simple as taking the stairs instead of using the lift.
- Moving Boosts Our Immune System. The lymphatic system, unlike the blood circulatory system, has no pump and requires physical encouragement in the form of movement or massage to stay in motion. As a key part of our immune system, it’s the job of this network of vessels to recognise and deal with abnormal cells and infections. In short, moving more helps us to fend off illness.
- Moving Gives Us an Opportunity to Be Mindful. This is especially welcome news for those of us who baulk at the idea of sitting still to meditate!
- Moving Alleviates Muscle Aches and Pains. A recent study in Japan found that office workers who sat less had reduced neck and shoulder pain and felt more engaged in their work.
- Moving Makes Us More Focused. The position of your body in relation to gravity has a profound effect on your alertness. This is because the neurons (nerve cells located in the brain) involved in creating states of wakefulness fire less the more we surrender to gravity’s forces. In practice, this means that moving is more conducive to states of focus than standing, standing more so than sitting, and sitting more so than lying down.
If we want to move more during our work day, there are two main ways we can achieve this: being more active when we sit or stand, and finding more opportunities to sit less. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Schedule a Walking Meeting With a Colleague
Instead of hiring a meeting room, use the time to get away from your desks and go for a walk. Studies have shown that not only are we more focused when we’re moving (compared with sitting down), but we are also better at thinking creatively and generating ideas.
2. Go Chat to a Colleague Instead of Messaging
Messaging has its upsides, but it’s a notably impersonal medium of communication. More than just an excuse to move your legs, delivering your message in person offers a great opportunity to bond with the person you’re speaking to.
3. Try a Standing Desk
If you’re not quite ready to go all-in on a standing desk, it’s easy to improvise one with items you likely already have in your office. You can stack some books beneath your laptop to convert your regular desk into a very economical standing desk. Ideally our screens should be at least at nose level to avoid straining the neck. You could also have a box to step a foot onto while keeping the hips level, and switch legs when you get tired.
4. Don’t Eat Lunch at Your Desk
Whether at home or at the office, it’s tempting to sacrifice our lunch break and ‘power through’ when we’re extra busy. However, the time we gain is a false economy. Not only does it deny us an often much-needed movement break, but we also miss out on the energy boost we get from stepping away from our desks. A recent study found that taking lunchtime breaks and detaching from one’s work increases levels of energy during the day and reduces exhaustion.
5. Make Walking or Cycling Part of Your Commute
Of course, not all of us have the luxury of being able to walk or cycle to the office. If you drive, consider parking your car further away. If you take public transport, try getting off the train or bus earlier than you normally would.
6. Adjust Your Posture Frequently
Fidgeting is just movement – you can think of it as a form of micro-exercise. When sitting down to work, you can experiment with different leg positions every now and then to switch things up (legs straight, bent, crossed, in figure-4, wide, together, etc.). You can also try spreading the fingers and toes, heel raises, wrist, neck and shoulder rolls, and so on. If you’re standing, try balancing on one leg to get your hip stabilising muscles working.
7. Take Regular Breaks From Your Computer
Ideally we should try not to sit for more than 45 minutes without getting up to walk around. It’s easy to forget when we’re absorbed in a task, so you can use an app to remind you, team up with a friend, use sticky notes, or set some daily reminders in your calendar.
8. Exercise and Stretch at Your Desk
With a little imagination, it’s entirely possible to get a low-impact, full-body workout without ever leaving your workspace. Many of the poses and exercises you might encounter in a mat-based yoga or Pilates class can easily be adapted and performed while seated or standing at a desk. You don’t need to set aside a large chunk of time for this either – sneaking a few minutes here and there is more than enough, but consistency is important to reap results over time.
If you’re interested in finding out more about our desk-based classes for office workers, we’d love to hear from you. Request a meeting with one of our wellbeing advisers, or drop us a line.
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