Dr. James Levine is known for saying, “Sitting is the new smoking.” While you've probably heard this before, know that it’s more than just a catchy buzzphrase—his words hold some truth. According to studies, spending six hours or more per day in a seated position can increase the risk of diabetes, depression, obesity, high blood pressure and some types of cancer.
If you have an office job, staying below that six-hour threshold may not be possible (unless you’re lucky enough to get your boss to invest in a standing desk). And you’re not alone: Americans spend an average of nine to 10 hours per day parked on their bottoms, escalating the risks even higher.
Before you start planning a walkout with your other chair-ridden co-workers, you can take some steps to make your workspace more conducive to better health. By keeping these good-for-you items on and around your desk, you'll ensure that your seated hours are spent as wisely as possible.
Do you keep any of these things at your workplace? Is there anything not on this list that you’d recommend including?
- Stability ball: Sitting in a regular desk chair for hours on end can lead to slouching and poor posture. When you trade the chair for a stability ball or yoga ball, even just for an hour or two a day, it will force you to sit up straight and balance your body weight, which will help to prevent back pain and activate the core muscles. As an added bonus, you’ll burn a few extra calories.
- Air purifier: For some office workers, daily extended exposure to airborne allergens and chemicals can cause discomfort, headaches and nausea. If you don’t have access to a window near your desk for ventilation, try keeping a small air purifier on your desk to reduce indoor air pollutants and keep you mentally energized.
- Water bottle: With all of the health-boosting benefits of hydration, a water bottle should be just as much a staple of your workday as a phone or computer. Sip throughout the day to promote healthy digestion, metabolism and nutrient absorption. Regular fluid intake will also help boost energy levels and mental focus.
- Standing desk: If it’s an option at your workplace, consider switching to a standing desk for part of the day. Some experts believe that so-called “active desks” can help to boost metabolism by encouraging more movement, and also promote improved posture and core strength. (That said, standing for the entire day could eventually lead to its own aches and pains, so shoot for a healthy balance.)
- Comfortable walking shoes. Even if you can’t wear them while you’re working, keeping them in plain sight will make it easier and more likely for you to take short walking breaks throughout the day or during your lunch hour. If you live close enough, you could even change into them to walk to and from work (or just to your intentionally far-parked vehicle).
- Light dumbbells. These are great for working in mini strength training sessions. Take quick breaks throughout the workday to do a quick set of bicep curls, tricep extensions, lateral raises or shoulder presses (or squeeze them in during a conference call).
- Healthy snacks. Silence the 3 p.m. siren song of the vending machine by stocking your desk with nutritious and filling snacks like homemade trail mix, dried fruit, carrot sticks and hummus and whole-grain crackers. They’ll help keep you fueled from lunch to dinner, and give you the strength you need to resist those break-room donuts.
- A plant. Some research shows that incorporating elements of nature into an indoor workspace can help to boost creativity, mental focus and overall wellness, while reducing stress and creating a sense of calm.
- Stress ball. A big part of staying healthy at work is finding constructive (or at least not unhealthy) ways to manage the inevitable stressful periods. When you feel yourself feeling anxious, overwhelmed or tense, try squeezing a stress ball as an outlet for that negative energy.
- Sources of inspiration. Find a few visual sources of inspiration to keep you motivated throughout the workday and remind you of your “why.” This might include a framed family photo, meaningful quotes or mantras, a special card from a loved one or any other item that encourages and uplifts you in your journey to optimal health.