Keeping fit at work

Jul 08, 2019

Over the past few years much evidence has been uncovered about the harmful effects of sitting down for too long. Several health conditions have been linked with too much sitting, including type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and being overweight and obese.

Indeed, the idea that sitting for long periods may not be good for you has been around since the 1950s, when bus drivers were found to have double the risk of having a heart attack than bus conductors.

Nobody knows exactly why excessive sitting may be harmful – some think it may make your metabolism slower, which can affect your blood pressure and your blood sugar regulation. But there is now overwhelming evidence to suggest a link between sitting and ill health.

But what if you have the type of job that demands sitting for long periods at a time? Many people have sedentary jobs – almost anyone who works in an office spends most of their day sitting. So besides giving up your job and training to be a yoga instructor, what can you do?

Strategies for sitting less

Adults aged 19 - 65 are advised to try to sit down less throughout the day, including at work, when travelling and at home. There are a number of things you could do, such as:

  • Giving up your seat on the train or bus
  • Using the stairs instead of lifts or escalators (walking up escalators is also a good idea)
  • Getting into the habit of standing up and, if possible, walking around whenever you make or take a phone call
  • Organising walking meetings, where you take a walk with the person you’re meeting rather than sitting down with them
  • Setting an alarm on your computer to remind you to get up and stretch your legs every 30 minutes
  • Doing more active tasks or hobbies at home instead of spending all your time watching TV or sitting and reading for hours (if you’re going to be sitting watching the telly for a while, try to get up and walk around whenever there’s an ad break, or take a break from reading whenever you finish a chapter)

Desk fitness tips

Meanwhile, there are lots of other things you can do to keep yourself fit at your desk and improve other aspects of your health, not just your fitness level. Here are some suggestions you can try today:

March on the spot

You can do this standing or even sitting. March on the spot for 1 or 2 minutes (if you’re sitting, make sure your posture is upright and simply march your feet up and down). Try to do this several times a day.

Do desk push-ups   

Work your arms and shoulders by doing push-ups off your desk. Stand up and put both hands on the edge of your desk with your fingers pointing forwards. Then take a big step back with both feet, keeping a straight line from your heels to your head (your body will be at an angle to the floor). Bend your elbows slowly to lower your upper body towards the desk, then slowly push back up. If pushing up from your desk is too difficult, try putting your hands against a wall instead.

Shrug your shoulders

If you spend long periods of time hunched over your computer keyboard, chances are your shoulders will ache or feel tight by the end of the day. Stretch those muscles out throughout the day by shrugging your shoulders as high as you can and holding them there for a few seconds. Release and repeat several times.

Also try rolling your shoulders back as far as they’ll go (you should feel as if they’re almost touching). Hold, then release and repeat. If your neck also tends to feel uncomfortable, do some neck rotations: sit with your head upright then gently turn it from one side to another (try to get your chin past your shoulder).

Squeeze your stomach  

To work out your abdominal muscles while you sit, try to squeeze them tightly for up to a minute at a time. You can do the same exercise with your buttock muscles too. 

Work your fingers

To prevent repetitive strain injuries in your hands and wrists, consider doing a few simple stretches 2 or 3 times during the day:

  • With your arms stretched out in front of you, make a fist with both hands, then make circles in both directions using just your wrists (try to keep your arms as still as possible)
  • Place the back of the fingers of both hands against the edge of your desk, with your wrists bent (your fingers should be together and pointing upwards). Press against the desk with your fingers. Do this a few times, then repeat with your fingers spread apart

Protect your eyes

If you work in an office, you may spend thousands of hours during your working life staring at a computer screen. This doesn’t just cause issues such as dry eyes, it can lead to the development of eyesight problems too. So try to keep your vision flexible by looking up from your screen every 5 or 10 minutes and letting your focus drift off into the distance.

If you can get into the habit of consciously blinking more often when you’re working with a computer, it could help with eye dryness too (working with computers tends to reduce your blink rate, which causes dryness).

Also try doing the following exercises each time you have a screen break:

  • Keeping your head and neck straight, roll your eyes in each of the directions below, holding each position for one or two seconds: up, down, right, left, top right corner, bottom left corner, top left corner, bottom left corner
  • Hold your thumb out 6 inches from your nose and focus on it for a few seconds. Then stare into the distance for a few seconds. Repeat up to 15 times
  • Finish by blinking rapidly for a few seconds to moisten your eyes
Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.