Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.
Sitting for too long, too often is risky for your health.
The Mayo Clinic reports on research that proves that sitting for more than eight hours a day — the length of a typical workday for people with a desk job — without getting any physical activity “had a risk of dying similar to that posed by obesity and smoking.”
The health problems that can come from extended periods of sitting without a break include but aren’t limited to:
- High blood pressure
- Elevated blood sugar
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Excess body fat (particularly around the waist)
- Increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease
“Staying healthy with a job that’s primarily sedentary can be a real challenge given that Americans spend a substantial portion of their adult lives on the job,” says Devin Ryder, chief of operations for the integrative wellness coaching practice Lucent Wellness.
“For a standard 9-to-5 schedule, an individual will spend over a third — approximately 35.7%, assuming eight hours of sleep, which is also important for maintaining good health! — of their waking hours at work.”
7 Tips for Staying Healthy in a Sedentary Job
If you’re inspired to break out of your sedentary work habits, then consider these general health tips for sedentary work, based on strategies from Ryder and Richard Nolan, chief people officer at software provider Epos Now.
Both Ryder and Nolan told FlexJobs that they recommend these ideas to their work groups and have also tried them out themselves.
1. Get Up and Move Around During Work
The Mayo Clinic notes that in considering, in aggregate, the various studies on the negative effects of sitting for too long, moving around more during the day seems to improve health.
Nolan explains that since sitting all day can be particularly hard on your body, it’s important to try to get up and move around as much as possible—at least once an hour.
“Take a quick walk around the office or take the stairs instead of using the elevator,” Nolan says. “Even just standing up to stretch can go a long way toward keeping you feeling fresh and energized throughout the day.”
“Your job might be sedentary, but you don’t have to be,” says Ryder, who agrees with the importance of moving throughout the day.
This can be manifested in many different ways, but it’s important not to spend the entire day sitting down. This will cause your hip flexors to tighten and can lead to injury, especially as we get older.”
He suggests making it a priority to get up every 60 to 90 minutes and taking a five-minute walk around wherever you are working.
2. Optimize Your Activity Outside of Your Workday
In addition to the physical activity you work in during your regular workday, staying active after work hours can help counterbalance your sedentary time as well.
Ryder admits that this can be difficult for working professionals to do, as there are rarely enough hours in the day to do everything we’d like.
His solution is to exercise early in the day, since prioritizing activity first thing in the morning ensures that nothing gets in the way of your health goals.
“I find that most healthy people I know and for myself, personally, this is most easily managed by getting your activity in first thing in the morning,” Ryder says.
“Resistance training, jogging/walking, yoga, and swimming are all fantastic options. Post-work activities are constantly disrupted by work, friends, and family — especially if you have children (like I do) — and other unforeseen events, making it much tougher overall to cram into the evening hours.”
3. Invest in Ergonomic Furniture
Spending hours on end planted in your seat can increase your risk of musculoskeletal disorders and other workplace injuries.
One way to make the best of a sedentary situation is to ensure that your office furniture is as ergonomically functional as possible to keep your spine, back, hips, neck, arms, and hands in proper alignment and reduce stress on your body.
“Much of our lives revolve around sitting these days, so having ergonomic furniture is essential when trying to stay healthy in a sedentary job,” Nolan explains.
“Make sure your chair has lumbar support — or invest in an adjustable back cushion if it doesn’t — and adjust it until you feel comfortable while working at your desk. That means arm rests should be level with your elbows and ideally pushing them slightly toward the back of your chair so that they don’t overstrain from reaching forward too often to type or click away!”
4. Listen to Music
While you might not think of music as something that can improve your health in a sedentary job, Johns Hopkins Medicine states that listening to music “provides a total brain workout” by:
- Reducing anxiety
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing pain
- Improving sleep quality
- Elevating mood
- Boosting mental alertness
- Improving memory
“Listening to music can help improve concentration levels, reduce stress levels, and provide overall positive energy throughout work hours — plus it’s fun!” Nolan says.
“Try playing something calming like classical music or even some upbeat tunes — whatever helps you set yourself into productive mode without being distracted by other people’s conversations nearby would be best!”
5. Do Your Best To Eat Healthy More Often Than Not
Healthy eating and a sedentary job may seem to be at odds. Sitting captive in front of your screen all day or night might tempt you to reach for unhealthy processed snacks, like candy or cookies.
Ryder points out that this bad habit can be mitigated by having a stash of healthy snacks at your desk.
“I tend to make my own meals in advance on the weekend so that it’s easy for me to grab and go during the busy workweek, even when working from home,” Ryder says.
“Prioritizing what you eat is a critical component to overall health and wellness.”
6. Drink Lots of Water
When you get into the zone at work and find yourself sitting for hours straight, you might forget to take care of your basic health needs. One of these needs is to give your body enough water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you must drink enough water to prevent dehydration, which can cause you to have mental symptoms such as losing focus or a low mood, or physical symptoms such as overheating or kidney stones.
The CDC states that “there is no recommendation on how much plain water everyone should drink daily,” but it does advise carrying a water bottle with you and refilling it during your workday.
“Staying hydrated is key for both mind and body health,” says Nolan.
“Drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day will help keep you focused on tasks while also reenergizing whenever needed during breaks or lunch hours. This may even include natural fruit juices, which are filled with vitamins essential for proper functioning within work hours too.”
7. Get Some Sleep
Sleeping well and enough can be a tall order for busy professionals, but sleep is a vital element of your health profile.
Ryder points out that sacrificing the number of hours of sleep you get each night often means sacrificing both physical and mental health.
“Prioritize giving your body seven to nine hours of ‘sleep opportunity’ each night, and you’ll enable your body and mind to perform at their best,” he says.
Finally, Ryder concludes that prioritizing your own health is the single most important component to living a healthy lifestyle, regardless of whether you work at a desk job.
“No one else can make you happy and healthy — you have to do it yourself,” he says. “Without recognizing this and taking action accordingly, your activity level and overall health and wellness will not change.”