Trying to stay healthy while also sitting at a desk for eight or more hours a day can be challenging. As a veteran desk-sitter myself, I know about the aches and pains of desk life all too well. However, there are ways to stay healthy when you sit at a desk all day — really, truly, there are!
According to the Mayo Clinic, research links sitting for long periods throughout the day with cardiovascular disease, metabolic problems, and cancer. What's more, attempting to offset the hours a day spent sitting behind a desk by spending a few hours at the gym each week doesn't seem to significantly improve the negative effects of sitting for extended periods. And long-term health effects aside, research published in The Washington Post shows that sitting at a desk all day does a whole range of negative things to our backs and muscles — which is probably something you've noticed if you've spent a lot of time sitting lately.
The question then becomes what do we do about it? Most of us kind of have to work at a desk to, well, live, so how can we maximize the positive things we do for our bodies each day even when confined to an office? If you're looking for answers, here are nine tips that should help:
1. Incorporate Movement Into Your Commute
Everyday Health contributor Madeline Vann, MPH, suggested using your morning or evening commute as the first place to fit in some more movement. "Park a reasonable distance from where you need to be and walk the rest of the way. If you use a parking garage, consider this strategy: Park on a lower level, climb the stairs to a higher level, and walk back down the ramp," she wrote. If you take public transportation to work, just get off a stop or two before where you would normally get off and walk the rest of the way.
2. Take The Stairs
Vann also recommended taking the stairs over the elevator. This might seem super obvious and even inconvenient, but stairs are awesome for your leg and glute muscles and also actually get your cardiovascular system going. Also, I don't know about you, but the elevators in a lot of offices I've worked have been crazy slow, so the stairs often even ended up saving me time.
3. Give Your Eyes A Break
A piece on AllAboutVision.com about eye strain by doctors Gary Heiting and Larry K. Wan noted the importance of giving your eyes a regular break if you work at a computer. They said research shows that an average of four five-minute breaks a day in addition to your usual ones not only reduces eye and muscle strain, but significantly improves your overall efficiency.
4. Keep Healthy Snacks Available
In a piece on eating healthfully at work, nutritionist Johnny Bowden stressed the importance of keeping healthy snacks on hand, especially because it helps you avoid going for the vending machine or donuts when hunger takes over. He specifically recommended snacking on things like hummus, sweet potatoes, and apples and peanut butter, as they'll give you energy without the sugar crash.
5. Drink More Water
In a compilation piece in Women's Health, readers sent in their top tips for moving more throughout the day. One participant recommended just drinking more water, as it guarantees you'll be getting up more to go to the bathroom — not to mention, drinking more water is always a great habit to maintain.
6. Stretch It Out
Vann said that leg stretches are a perfect and discreet way to get in some more movement, since no one can see what you're doing under your desk anyway. "Start with flat feet, and then raise and lower the heel of each foot 5 to 10 times. Next switch to lifting your toes: Raise one leg and point your toe slowly 5 to 10 times; do the same on the other side. Finally, raise one leg and circle your ankle several times; switch legs," Vann said.
7. Wash Your Hands
In a piece for The Huffington Post's Healthy Living section, life coach Stacia Pierce recommended washing your hands frequently at work and keeping antibacterial wipes around your work station. "The average desk harbors hundreds of times more bacteria than a toilet seat — pretty gross, right? Keep your work area neat and organized. Keep sanitizing wipes and spray at your desk and wipe down the surfaces often," she wrote.
8. Switch Out Caffeine For Something Else
Pierce also reminded us that while caffeine may make us feel good temporarily, it is also associated with sleep problems, as too much caffeine later in the day can prevent us from falling asleep. Lack of sleep, in turn, makes us more tired the next day, forcing us to turn to more coffee... which leads to less sleep. Try to switch out caffeinated drinks after lunch with decaf herbal teas.
9. Order Smart
Finally, in a U.S. News and World Report piece on staying healthy at work, registered dietician Keri Gans recommended simply ordering healthier options when you order lunch. And I know, I know — the healthiest (and cheapest) option of all would probably be to just bring your own, but as a work place veteran, I can tell you that this isn't always realistic, and you will probably find yourself ordering lunch out at least some of the time. “Be the one who suggests healthy food options so you’re not influenced by [others’] poor choices,” Gans said.
Sitting down while staring at a computer screen all day definitely isn't the ideal way to spend our time when it comes to our health, but the good news is there are definitely solid and relatively simple strategies for minimizing the toll it takes. It often just comes down to being conscious about moving more throughout the day and bringing along a few healthy snacks to get you through.