When the commute to work is just a few steps down the hall, it’s easy to settle into a very unhealthy habit: sitting all day.
Sitting all day contributes to multiple health issues, from increasing the risk of diabetes to more headaches and musculoskeletal conditions, psychological stress, mental health issues and more. In fact, sitting eight hours a day without movement has been likened to the same health risks as obesity and smoking.
And as more people work from home for longer periods, the chances for prolonged health problems will continue to rise, unless they incorporate activity into their daily schedules.
An Emerging Habit
For many teleworkers, the simple act of going to a worksite used to require activity. Walking to and from the car to the office desk. Getting up to go to the copy machine or meetings. Some rode bike to work, others took advantage of company-owned gyms. Routines and activity were part of the everyday workday.
But that changed for many when they were sent home to work at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twin Cities Telework by Commuter Services has conducted quarterly surveys of teleworkers since May 2020. Consistently, survey respondents have noted a decrease in activity under their new work arrangements.
“I’m feeling as though I can’t leave my computer to work out like I used to when I worked in the office,” a teleworker responded in August 2020.
“I’m too sedentary, not moving my body enough,” another said in February 2021.
The sentiment – and the habit – has continued throughout the past two years. Even in the most recent survey, closed May 31, 2022, one teleworker commented:
“I move a lot less when I telework. It’s hard to make up for those missed steps from
Arguments for Movement
NERVE AND VEIN PROBLEMS
Lack of movement can lead to poor blood circulation throughout the body. Blood remains in the legs and feet, reducing blood flow. This can lead to serious nerve problems like varicose veins or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Joint swelling and pain are also possible, as is tingling and numbness in the limbs.
This same lack of movement can also lead to pinched nerves in the low back, neck, legs, or wrists.
MULTIPLE HEALTH RISKS
Sitting too long impacts sugar regulation and blood pressure, leading to serious health risks including heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. High blood sugar contributes to nerve pain and diabetes, as well.
Several sources also suggest that sitting at work or leading a sedentary lifestyle appear to contribute to cancer and dementia.
ACHES AND PAINS
Staying in one place for an extended period might seem like it is comfortable; but the truth is, lack of movement puts stress on the muscles in the back, neck, and spine. Long periods of sitting often result in the body hunching forward or slouching backward – positions that knock the spine out of alignment and cause unnecessary and sometimes long-term injuries.
MUSCLE MASS LOSS, WEIGHT GAIN
Perhaps one of the most visible cues from the toll of sitting all day is the gradual change in the body’s overall appearance. Muscles not used begin to deteriorate and are gradually replaced by the build up of fatty tissues. New weight comes on quickly, while coordination dwindles.
And often, the psychological effect of weight gain brings frustrating, negative emotions such as self-doubt, anxiety, and depression.
Tips for Staying Active
GET UP AND GET OUTSIDE
Taking a 15- to 30-minute walk during a break is one of the easiest – and cheapest –ways to get your blood flowing and heart pumping. A walk right after work or in the evening is also a great option for closing out a long workday.
Simple stretches every 30 minutes or so can increase flexibility, relieve tension and provide a opportunity for a temporary mental break. Easy moves include stretching the legs out under a desk, stretching arms above the head, stretching arms in front and in back of the body, and tilting the head side to side to stretch neck muscles. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds for maximum benefit and relief.
MOVE OFFICE ACCESSORIES AWAY FROM THE DESK
The printer and paper shredder are not often located right next to an office desk –you have to get up and walk to use them. So do the same thing at your home. Move the printer to another room, place the paper shredder near the recycling bin. Take away the convenience and make yourself get up and move to do these everyday work tasks.
DRINK WATER REGULARLY
It might not be the same as gathering to chat around the water cooler, but water plays an important role in the day-to-day health and wellbeing of everyone. In the case of working from home, filling up the water glass means getting up and walking away from your desk.
TRY STANDING DURING THE DAY
A standing desk is a great option for more movement but can sometimes be cost-prohibitive. One idea to try is setting a computer on an ironing board, a countertop, or a raised table. Use these surfaces on a temporary basis throughout the day, as a way to break up the monotony of sitting at a desk.
Fixing a healthy lunch at the kitchen countertop also involves standing and some movement. Plus, a good, healthy lunch will provide the nutrition the body needs to rev up for the rest of the day. (And help to stave off extra pounds!