Jessica Corwin, a Spectrum Health Community Nutricion Educator, is shown using the treadmill desk on her office floor.
Jessica Corwin uses the treadmill desk at the Spectrum Health Healthier Communities office. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

The desk job. Some aspire to it. Others avoid it like the plague.

As the perils of sitting all day become more widely known, the latter is probably the smarter path to take (I think as I sit at my desk, for hour number eight, typing this story).

According to the latest research, prolonged sedentary time—think eight to 10 hours a day sitting at that desk job—can take years off your life by putting you at an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

What’s more, even if you do have a regular exercise routine, it doesn’t protect you enough to offset the detrimental effects of hours and hours of sitting.

If, like me, you add on a commute to and from your desk job, well, don’t be surprised to see the grim reaper in the rear-view mirror.

Move it or lose it

Federal guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every week. Indeed, it’s widely known that getting 30 minutes of exercise every day can lower your risk for disease and premature death.

But with health experts now saying that staying active throughout the day is more important than hitting the gym, the challenge becomes finding the time to move. And work. At the same time.

"Stand up to get healthy!" infographic is shown.
Stand up to get healthy!

Luckily for us office drones, there are creative ways to reap some of the health benefits of movement throughout our day, even with a desk job.

1. Stand up at your desk

Instead of sitting at your desk and working on your computer, grab your laptop and stand up while you work. Granted, this may require you to walk around your office to find a table upon which to place your laptop. That’s good.

Better yet, get an actual stand-up desk.

That’s what one local business did to get employees out of their chairs. Life EMS Ambulance dispatchers got new desks, which are motorized so they can adjust the height to sit and stand as they please.

“The sit-to-stand desk is becoming more and more prevalent in the workplace,” said Leah Konwinski, an ergonomic specialist with Spectrum Health. “It’s a great option to promote a little more movement at work without sacrificing comfort, safety or ability to focus and still be productive.”

Standing is still a ‘static’ activity, though, and our bodies are not made to be static. Even when standing, take breaks and move about, Konwinski suggested.

2. Hop on a treadmill (desk, that is)

For someone who has a tough time sitting still, a treadmill desk may be the ideal form of multitasking.

Jessica Corwin, MPH, RDN, a community nutrition educator with Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, is a frequent user and offers a few observations.

Jessica Corwin, a Spectrum Health Community Nutricion Educator, is shown near the treadmill desk on her office floor.
Jessica Corwin, a Spectrum Health Community Nutrition Educator, is shown near the treadmill desk on her office floor. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

“Lots of days, especially in the winter, I’m stuck at my desk,” she said. “And since I’m typically multitasking and am one who does not experience motion sickness, using a treadmill desk is quite fitting. It’s an awesome way to squeeze in a little exercise or at the very least, spend time standing instead of sitting.”

She typically uses it first thing in the morning or as an afternoon pick-me-up.

“It’s ideal for getting caught up on e-mail, doing a little research or reviewing a presentation,” said Corwin. “It also helps me hone my reading comprehension and retention, and makes my time more efficient—I walk, learn and forgo the need to read things twice.”

On the con side, she can’t spread out the things she’s working on or pull files out as needed. For that kind of work, she said, it’s still nice to be at her regular desk.

And, your pace really can’t approach anything too speedy, which leads some to question whether there’s really any health benefit at all.

A recent NPR report looked at treadmill desks and cited several small studies that found they do potentially hold health benefits, depending on how often, how much and how vigorously they’re used.

First, treadmill desks can help increase the number of steps taken per day, and that accumulation of physical activity is better than nothing or sitting all day. Second, it’s not about working out or working up a sweat. It’s about not sitting.

So, if you have a treadmill desk—use it. But don’t forget, you still have to fit about 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise into your weekly routine as well.

If you don’t have a treadmill desk, but want one (and you have some semblance of creativity and mechanical ability), you can join the folks opting for a DIY approach.

3. Swap out your desk chair for a stability ball

Many of us remember bouncing around the yard on a ‘hippity hop’ ball when we were kids. Similar concept, but no handle. And no bouncing down the halls.

Sitting on a stability ball can improve posture and strengthen your core abdominal and back muscles, said Kim DeLaFuente, MA, ACSM-PD, an community exercise educator with Spectrum Health Healthier Communities.

“A stability ball forces your core muscles to work harder to keep you balanced so you don’t fall off,” she said. “You’re also forced to sit up straight and upright.”

So, good posture. Strong core. But for those of us who aren’t so coordinated, possible concussion. (Remember, no handle.)

4. Workout at work

There are other ways—calisthenics for example—to get in a bit more movement at work.

The Washington Post actually tested 12 exercises for a week to see which ones real people could incorporate into a workday. See how to do each one and rate them yourself.

DeLaFuente offers these additional ideas:

  • Practice yoga poses at your desk to re-energize you throughout the day
  • Keep resistance bands in your desk drawer and use them to work in a little strength training
  • Hold a walking meeting

“Just find ways to incorporate short bits of activity throughout the day,” she said. “Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther away and walk. It all adds up.”

Setting up the traditional office set-up

Even if you wish to simply remain seated at your desk, it’s important to make sure your workstation is structured to properly support your body.

“Maintaining neutral postures and proper body alignment allows you to feel comfortable much longer,” Konwisnski said. “Most workstations nowadays have sufficient adjustability between the chair and other small items like a footrest or keyboard tray.”

She provided the following guidelines for proper workstation adjustment: