8 Simple Ways to Sit Less at Work

What’s your number one barrier to taking care of your health? If you are like the hundreds of employees I’ve surveyed, time is the top answer. It doesn’t matter if the company is a municipality, manufacturing site or a white collar worksite. The answer is the same. We never have enough time in the day to do everything we want to do, especially when it comes to taking care of ourselves.

When push comes to shove exercise is the first thing we sacrifice despite all of the health benefits. I hope we can all agree that exercise is good for us and has a ton of health benefits.  Just to name one – exercise helps get glucose (blood sugar) out of the bloodstream and into the muscles and cells where it should be.  In other words, it helps lower high blood sugar in pre-diabetics and diabetics.  If you need to be convinced, here’s a link to a list of 7 benefits of exercise.

Not only is exercise important but sitting can be linked to a higher cost of medical care and claims. Research shows that excessive sitting is directly tied to 6% of the impact for heart diseases, 7% for type 2 diabetes, and 10% for breast cancer, or colon cancer.  Not to mention, musculoskeletal claims are always a high cost driver for employers.  Sitting all day doesn’t help those claims improve.

So, with all these benefits why wouldn’t an employer promote more activity and sitting less at work?

Managers think butts in seat = more productivity
Despite all of the research to the contrary, I hear this all of the time.  A manager thinks that if their employee is sitting in front of their computer, then quality work is getting done.  When are you the most creative?  When do you do your best problem solving?  Is it in front of your computer?  I doubt it.  Most ideas come to people when they are away from work, like in the shower, on a walk, driving, etc.  The picture above shows the brain activity of a person sitting for 20 minutes compared to a person after a 20 minute walk.  It’s obvious who has the most brain activity.  Would you rather have employees have brain activity like the one on the left or right?

Image with their boss, customers, etc.
If you are a manager who believes in exercising during the workday but your boss doesn’t, then you are going to be less likely to create a flexible environment for your team. Also, some companies are concerned that if employees are out and walking around, people (i.e. customers) are wondering who’s getting the work done.

Co-worker drama & Self imposed guilt
There are just some people who like to concern themselves with what everyone else is doing. Employees feel guiltly leaving for a workout when their co-workers are working through lunch and complaining how busy they are.  It can be especially difficult to go work out when your team doesn’t lead a healthy lifestyle and you are the out man or woman out.

Some employees put the guilt on themselves and feel guilty for taking a break, especially if their co-workers aren’t.  Their co-workers or boss may not care one bit but they put the story in their head that they do.

So, what can an employer do?  What can an employee do who feels that their sedentary work life is slowing killing them?

Put in a policy….as long as your culture can back it.  A common piece of advice is putting in a physical activity policy.  I work with an employer who has this in place but not every department believes or supports it.  Policies are all well and good but no policy can override the culture.  If you wanted to create a policy, the CDC has a great website that shows sample policies.  If you end up putting in a policy, I recommend having a way to track people taking advantage of it or at least auditing it’s success from observing different departments during the year.

Incorporate breaks in your meetings.  Meetings tend to take up the majority of the day in corporate America and many are multiple hour meetings.  If you have a meeting or training that lasts longer than an hour, incorporate breaks a minimum of every 90 minutes.  After 90 minutes of sitting, they aren’t listening to you anyway.

Try Walking meetings.  Walking meetings can be an easy way to get in extra activity and get work done.  In fact, you are more likely to listen and engage with your co-worker when you are being active.  The only caveat is that it’s helpful if the boss suggests the walking meeting.  Not all employees feel comfortable to ask for a walking meeting but I encourage they do it anyway.  It especially helps if leadership is seen implementing walking meetings.

Sit to stand desks/treadmill desks.  Insert eye roll here.  I know, I know….they are expensive and once one employee requests one, you have a bunch of others asking.  Here’s a solution – try investing in a few sit to stand desks scattered around the office and have people use them for an hour at a time. You can try one treadmill desk and see how employees adopt it. That way, the employee feels like you listened to them but you didn’t have to break the bank.

An employer can do all of the things above but employees can also make small tweaks in their day to incorporate movement.  Here are 4 things employees can do to sit less.

Stand up every hour – there are apps that can remind you to stand up at intervals of your choosing.  Just search for “stand up apps” in iTunes/Google Play and you have quite a few to select.

Try to go to the bathroom, printer, breakroom, etc. farthest away from your desk.  Even better, climb some stairs to get there.

Embrace and plan for breaks.  We can only focus for so long and everyone has a different limit.  Most of us can only focus for 45 minutes or so.  You can build in light activity breaks as frequent as every hour or once a morning.  I’ve recently heard of one guy who has a 45/10/5 hourly schedule.  He focuses on work for 45 minutes, is active for 10 then checks email for 5 minutes.

Start a walking or running group.  I’m part of a running group at work and we meet at 4:15 one day a week to run in the neighborhood behind our office.  I’ve met a great group of co-workers across the company and those relationships help me get my job done better.  Our company didn’t dictate that we do this. We just formed on our own and welcome anyone to join.

Keep in mind that as an employer, you don’t have to pay for everyone’s gym membership or provide an onsite gym.  Just help disrupt the sitting standard at work by putting in some of these tips.  All it takes is for a few people to start the momentum and shift the culture.