We spend over half of our lives split between full-time work (2,000 hours) and eight hours of nightly sleep (2,920). The other 44% of our life may be spent running errands and taking care of our families. But when is there time to take care of ourselves? The good news is that it is easy to fit exercise in at work during those 40 hours, regardless of what you do. And that small amount of time can significantly decrease the back and neck pain you’re experiencing at your office job. Here are 14 ways to get more and better exercise at work.
1. Start with your commute
The average commuter spends nearly 100 hours a year commuting to work. The majority of commuters travel less than ten miles to work.
Easily increase exercise in your workday by walking or biking to work. Not only are you doing something great for your health, but you are also one less frustrated commuter on the road, and one car less pollution in the world.
2. Take phone calls standing up
If most of your day is spent tethered to a phone, use that time as a great way to log some miles on the Fitbit. Wear a path in your office carpet as you stroll while you talk.
3. Take the stairs
Getting more exercise at work may be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
4. Take bathroom breaks on another floor
If possible, increase your stair use by utilizing the restroom on a different floor (or all the way down in the lobby). While this may be an unusual way to add exercise, think of it as something else you are doing for your health.
5. Use the printer that is farthest away from you
If your work uses networked printing, choose the printer farthest from your office. Every time you print you get a chance to stand up and move your body.
6. Hold walking meetings
Meetings may be a necessary evil at your workplace, but they don’t have to do harm to your exercise routine.
Walking meetings are excellent especially for one-on-one meetings that are held to generate ideas or discuss options (two things that may not require written notes). Research is beginning to prove the theory that exercise boosts creativity, and walking meetings can help reap that benefit.
7. Do chair yoga
If you must remain seated during the day, or if pain or injury prevents you from too much standing activity, chair yoga is a great way to gradually build strength and endurance. A few simple exercises can get you started. Move on to more advanced, flowing sequences as you gain strength.
8. Use a standing desk
Sitting down is epidemic in U.S. culture, and it is easy to remedy. Standing up on a regular basis (at least ten minutes every hour) is one way to reverse the ill effects of sitting, or you could simply get rid of your chair altogether in favor of a standing desk. While working at a standing desk may be tiring at first, your body will begin to adjust until sitting become the uncomfortable part of the day!
9. Use a treadmill desk
Treadmill desks take standing desks one step further (pun intended!). While they do take some getting used to, treadmill desks allow you to stroll as you work.
Speeds are variable, so it may take some adjusting to find the one that allows you to work without worrying about what your legs are doing.
10. Swap your chair for an exercise ball
If possible, swapping your standard office chair for an exercise ball is a nearly effortless way to add exercise to your day.
Balancing on an exercise ball requires core engagement and proper posture. These two actions help to strengthen your body while you sit. Bouncing lightly keeps your leg muscles active, too, and you can always use the ball for a quick set of pushups or sit-ups if the impulse strikes.
11. Deliver your message personally
Have a quick memo to email to colleagues in the office? Skip the email. Walk to deliver your message instead. While this may take more time than simply typing out what you want to say, walking through the office gives you a chance to stand up and move around.
Figure out the most essential information you need to convey, and deliver your message quickly so as not to disrupt too much (or get sidetracked).
12. Keep free weights handy
Having one or two free weights in your office can help you exercise easily.
Plan on a daily number of repetitions, then check them off as you are able to do them. Complete one set of arm curls when you are on the phone, then do the next set before you head out for lunch.
13. Go for a bike ride… without leaving your office
Researchers at the University of Iowa provided workers with portable pedaling devices and found that everyone who used them lost more weight, missed less work due to sick days, and reported better concentration.
The study noted that design of the devices was crucial, as was the privacy of the exercise itself (i.e., a pedaling device hidden under a desk rather than a very visible office exercise space). Portable pedaling devices are a much more affordable, accessible, and sustainable way to get regular exercise at work than a high-end employee gym. You may even be able to cover the cost with a flexible spending account!
14. Split your lunch break in half
Do you normally take an entire hour for lunch, running errands while eating on the go or eating mindlessly while surfing the internet on your phone? Try something new. Start your lunch break by drinking a big glass of water then heading out for a brisk walk (rain or shine). Finish your break in good conversation with your coworkers as you sit down and eat lunch.
Turn off your phone, save the errands for later, and really pay attention to your food and your company. Fitness is just as much about the mental and emotional components of health as the physical. This routine at least two or three times a week can boost energy, improve physical fitness, and help you to focus more as you move through your day.
Does it work?
Recognizing that many workers are struggling to meet the demands of their jobs and families and still take care of themselves, many companies have begun instituting workplace wellness programs. These can be anything from gym facilities in the workplace to group runs and walks and long-term paid maternity and paternity leave.
While some workplace wellness programs have struggled to take hold, there is increasing evidence that including exercise in workers’ daily lives is the key to happy, healthy employees.
What the research says about workplace wellness programs
A case study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), found that one company’s quest to improve employee mental and physical wellness resulted in decreased healthcare costs and increased productivity.
The company, which is not named in the study, implemented various workplace wellness programs over five years as they moved to a consumer-driven health plan in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. Wellness offerings included on-site workout facilities and programs for smoking cessation and weight loss.
The 2,000 employees included in the data showed a significant increase in wellbeing over the five years, with an increase on the wellbeing index of over 13%. Significant decreases were found in important health measures also, including:
- Healthcare costs: Down 5.2%
- Obesity rates: Down 4.8%
- Smoking rates: Down 9.7%
In addition, productivity increased and worker absenteeism dropped.
How much do these programs cost?
While the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act may have resulted in increased costs for both employers and employees, including a workplace wellness program for the company in the study actually reduced the overall costs. Aaron Wells, PhD, of Healthways, Inc., in Franklin, Tennessee and the author of the study pointed out that spending the extra money on these programs benefits everyone, saying:
“Transitioning to a CDHP combined with a robust well-being improvement strategy is an effective means for both employer and employees to benefit. Both entities save money and are more productive as a result.”
How to make a workplace wellness program stick
All of the positive workplace wellness programs in the world won’t help if employees do not utilize them.
Employers are trying to find ways to help encourage employees to take advantage of wellness programs, and one study published in International Journal of Workplace Health Management may have found a way to do that: implement a health code of conduct.
Health code of conduct
This small-scale study surveyed 157 people regarding their attitudes towards a workplace health code of conduct. Essentially, this health code of conduct would be signed upon hiring. Lead author and doctoral candidate Rebecca Robbins described the health code, saying,
“[It is] a contract that employees sign at the start of employment to opt into a work culture that promotes and rewards employee health and wellness through monetary rewards, such as prescription discounts and reduced co-pays, and through recognition programs.”
Co-author Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life notes:
“Rewarding employees for complying with health initiatives can be as easy as lowering co-pays, offering prescription discounts, vacation days, and vaccinations. Offering recognition is also a great way to show employees that their health and wellbeing are valued by the company.”
Start at the beginning
Another study conducted by the U.S Department of Labor found that the most effective workplace wellness programs started at the hiring date to tailor their programs to the employees. Eighty percent of the companies in this study screened employees prior to or just after hiring and then selected workplace wellness programs targeting specific health issues.
Companies then offered two types of preventive interventions:
- Primary prevention: This type of program focuses on lifestyle changes to promote wellness among employees with risk factors for conditions such as diabetes
- Secondary prevention: Secondary prevention helps employees improve disease management for a condition they already have
Workplace wellness programs in this study varied widely, with most employers offering smoking cessation; weight loss or weight management; targeted education and activities for diabetes, heart disease, and mental health; and other interventions like onsite vaccinations and healthy food options at the company cafeteria.
This study found that those who participated in the workplace wellness programs offered by their employers improved their health dramatically, but there is one issue: few employees in the study took advantage of the programs offered. Just 46% of new hires opted in to a screening process for the wellness programs, and of those, less than 20% chose to participate.
How can these programs help in your efforts
Lack of participation in workplace wellness programs has been an ongoing problem since their beginning, and can affect how your own exercise efforts go.
A Gallup-Healthways poll found that the disconnect may be between the employees and the program designers. In the U.S., 85% of employers have workplace wellness programs in place, yet less than 25% of employees actively and regularly participate in them.
The poll suggests that the missing link may be employee managers, those people with direct, daily contact with and influence on workers. Employee-manager relations plays a strong role in employee wellbeing.
Another Gallup poll asked whether or not employees felt that their manager cared about their wellbeing. Those who answered positively had fewer sick days, were more productive, and changed jobs less frequently than those who did not feel cared for by their direct supervisors.
The end result is that workplace wellness programs are an affordable and effective way to increase employee health and wellbeing, but only if they are implemented effectively and utilized by employees.
How do you get in more exercise at work? Doing so is the first step in reducing aches and pains from a desk job.