Well-Being//

5 Microsteps to Keep You Healthy if You Have a Desk Job

Your well-being doesn’t have to take a hit just because “sitting” is a job requirement.

By Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
By Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

A lot of us with office jobs know: Living a healthy lifestyle can be especially tough when we’re stuck behind a desk all day. For one, getting enough physical activity is a hurdle — and the big irony is that it’s easy to feel more tired after long stretches without movement. Then there’s the challenge of trying to make nutritious eating choices, but falling into a trap of munching on unhealthy snacks or “emotional grazing” to deal with job stress. 

But despite these challenges, it’s not impossible to stay healthy while being desk-bound — no matter how busy your job is. That’s why we’ve compiled five simple Microsteps to incorporate into your daily routine to help improve your health at work.

Take regular breaks

Hustle culture perpetuates the myth that if you work until you drop, you’re optimizing your performance and setting yourself up for success. In reality, that’s not the case at all: Ultimately, overworking and working a sedentary job late into the evening is a recipe for burnout and, at the very least, a cognitive fog. In other words, you need to give yourself breaks (which involve, yes, leaving your desk) in order to keep performing at your best. “Build in brain breaks throughout your day to optimize your brain performance and prevent fatigue,” Dr. Krystal L. Culler, D.B.H., M.A., founder of Your Brain Health Matters, LLC, tells Thrive. According to research, regular breaks — even short ones — can help you make better decisions, inspire motivation, and increase productivity and creativity. So schedule yourself some “you” time throughout your work day. Your body and brain will thank you.

Move and stretch at least twice a day

It’s not just your brain that needs a break: Your body does, too. Research has shown that extended sitting can be harmful: For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, one analysis found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to those posed by smoking and obesity. Other outcomes of “sitting disease” include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and depression, which is why making sure you get enough movement each day is especially important if you work a desk job. According to the Harvard Health Blog, just 25 minutes of physical activity (walking counts!) can help offset the negative negative health effects of sitting all day. But really, just moving at all, in a way that’s comfortable and sustainable for you, is key. Mitchell Starkman, RPT, MScPT, Toronto based physiotherapist, has a Microstep solution: “Use moments like reading an email, or taking a call to inject some movement and mobility in your life. It’s no extra time in your day, but has all of the benefits,” he explains. “It can also grow to be somewhat of a cue or habit over time. Whenever the phone rings: ‘time to get up and stretch.’”

Opt for standing or walking meetings

If you’re determined to get your 25 minutes of exercise in everyday, one simple step is to transform stationary work meetings to chairless or walking meetings. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Meetings during which you don’t sit down, but move around instead, allowing your body to get some much needed exercise in while you’re at work, without taking any time away from your responsibilities. “Chairless meetings entail a simple, but extremely effective solution to improve our well-being and increase our movement variability at the office,” Starkman points out. “Some folks opt to just remove their chairs from the boardroom and meet in there. Team members can stand or pace side to side.” As for walking meetings, you don’t even have to go outside. Simply walk around the halls, or move around the room. Over time, you’ll get used to this meeting style, and may even come to prefer it.

Carry a reusable water bottle

Drinking enough water is of utmost importance for your health and ability to work: Dehydration can cause cognitive deficiency, impair executive function, and make you less alert and productive. It can also negatively impact your mood. If you struggle with reminding yourself to drink water, Culler suggests investing in a reusable water bottle and creating “memory routines” around it. For example: Make it a default practice to refill your bottle every two hours, or every time you get up to go to the bathroom. And if that’s not your thing, there are lots of apps that help you keep track of your water intake.

Bring your own snacks and lunch

Bringing your own food to work is an absolute game-changer: First of all, providing your own healthy options to munch on all day keeps you from eating whatever’s in the kitchen out of boredom, and, according to Harvard Medical School , snacking and eating small, frequent meals throughout the day also helps boost energy and productivity. “Proper planning is the key to achieving any goal,” says Bonnie Balk, R.D., a registered dietitian. “And by bringing your home-prepared food to work, you are setting the foundation for healthy eating.” A little tip to avoid ditching your meals and snacks for the more appealing food (hi, cupcakes!) in the office: Make sure that your healthy food also tastes good.

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