Increasing Your Productivity and Health in the Workplace

April 3, 2014

What is a Sedentary Lifestyle?

Are you sitting right now? You probably are. Most people spend at least 6 to 8 hours a day sitting behind a desk at work. Then they go home and sit some more, usually in front of the TV or reading a book, this is called a sedentary lifestyle. According to Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson, studies now show that the effects of sitting for extended periods puts a person's health at risk even if they engage in a regular exercise program.

The health hazards and risks associated with sitting all day are numerous, effecting your joints, muscles, and every part of your body. Remember, your body is the only one you will ever have.

harmful effects of sitting on the body infographic

6 Ways to Exercise at Work

Don’t quit your day job as a solution to sitting all the time, but don’t let your body suffer because of a sedentary work life. Making changes throughout your workday can have a big impact on your overall health. Here are six simple changes you can make to add activity at work and improve your overall health.

  1. Have walking meetings
  2. Stand or walk while on conference calls
  3. Print documents on a printer that’s across the office or on another floor
  4. Take the stairs
  5. Walk or bike to work
  6. Walk during your lunch break

Proper Desk Ergonomics

If you do have to sit even for a short time during your workday, what is the right way? The following are some tips to keep in mind when you are sitting, and, in addition to these tips, you may want to support your lower back as needed.

  • Don’t lean forward at your desk
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed
  • Keep your arms close to your sides
  • Bend your elbows at 90 degrees
  • Keep feet flat on the floor

Another step you can take is to consider a healthier desk alternative. There are now standing desks, treadmill desks and bike desks available for any office environment no matter the shape or size. Some of them are singular desk solutions and others are a modular design allowing you to sit and stand throughout the day. These allow you the ease of adding exercise to the workplace while still completing all your daily tasks, making you more productive overall. Keep in mind you will also want to consider proper ergonomics when selecting a desk alternative.

Benefits of Walking While Working

Thinking about adding a treadmill desk in your office but have concerns they might affect--potentially decrease--productivity? Research now indicates otherwise. Productivity can actually improve, and office workers report higher energy levels and greater concentration when performing tasks while using a treadmill desk.

Research conducted by the University of Minnesota (UMN) and published in the journal Obesity confirms that using a treadmill desk has a variety of benefits. The study analyzed the effects of walking on a treadmill throughout the workday. They concluded that the work performance of people who used a treadmill desk for a year didn't decline after a very brief, initial adjustment to the change. In fact, the study found that both overall employee productivity and health improved.

Carlson School of Management professor of Work and Organizations, Avner Ben-Ner, and his coauthors analyzed employees using treadmill desks instead of office chairs as they worked. For one year, these employees in a financial 1services company volunteered to swap out their regular seated desk for a treadmill desk. The study found that the employees burned 7 to 8 percent more calories per day, walking from 0 to 2 MPH, than before the study began and there was nearly a 1-point increase in productivity (based on 10-point scale).

active workstation neocon booth

Adding activity at work and moving throughout the day isn’t a new idea. Previous studies found people are more productive after exercising compared to days they don’t exercise. Work quality, mental performance and time management all improve on days when employees exercise.

Ben-Ner calls the outcome of the UMN study a win-win. It’s a health-improving option that costs very little. I think there will be an increasing number of employers who will invest $1,000 or $2,000 in outfitting a persons’ workstation, he says. The employer benefits from the employee being active and healthy and more smart because more blood is flowing to the brain. Ben-Ner suggests that future research examine various circumstances that could affect employee performance.

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