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Beyond Ergonomics: Practice a Little Workplace Fitness

Businesspeople Doing Side BendsIt’s a sunny afternoon and you’re just entering the post-lunch dip. You look out your office window and see a few teenagers whizzing by on their bicycles. You turn to your coworker in the cubicle next to you and say, “Man, it’s killing me to sit at this desk all day.” You think you’re making a metaphorical statement, but in reality you’re more right about your desk job than you may be aware.

Are you sitting down for this?

Why Sitting All Day Will Kill You

Scientists have found that a standing human body uses energy in an entirely different way than a sitting one. The brain functions differently, calories are stored in a different manner, and other metabolic changes can occur when a person stands more than he or she sits.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the human body was designed to move and stay active. When it remains sedentary, it doesn’t expend energy the way that it should. Research, such as a recent cancer prevention study from the American Cancer Society, has shown that sitting for more than six hours a day can take a serious toll on your health, increasing your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other related illnesses, regardless of whether you exercise, maintain a healthy weight and diet, and remain smoke-free. Their research also found that sitting regularly over the course of more than 10 years can double the risk of colon cancer.

The average American sits for more than 13 hours a day. Between sitting at work and sitting in front of the television, many human bodies remains sedentary, which is counterproductive to their design. Individuals who sit for more than 11 hours a day (i.e. the majority of Americans) were found to be 40% more likely to die in the next three years than those who sit for less than four hours.

How Sitting All Day Can Affect Your Mental Health

Sitting all day for work or other reasons isn’t just detrimental to your physical health; prolonged sitting has also been linked to depression and anxiety. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 8,950 women ages 50 to 55 completed surveys every three years between 2001 and 2010. Researchers found that women who sat for more than seven hours each day faced a 47% higher risk of symptoms related to depression compared to those who sat for less than four hours each day—even if they regularly exercised. Conversely, those who didn’t exercise faced up to 99% greater risk of depression than those who did.

In our society, it’s not just adults who are adversely affected by sedentary lifestyles; our children are sitting for prolonged periods as well. Research has shown that students with standing desks have increased focus, alertness, and overall enthusiasm for learning. Standing desks also addressed many students’ fidgeting by allowing them to move in a constructive manner. A similar study found that high school students who use standing desks improved their test scores by 20%, implying that sitting too much may affect our intellectual abilities.

Ways to Burn Calories in the Workplace and Add Years to Your Life

Now, don’t run out and quit your desk job just yet. Many options are available to help get you moving at work and keep you healthy. For those who do have to sit all day, here are a few fitness practices to counter the effects of sitting:

  1. Turn your daily commute into an exercise: If you live close enough, start walking or biking to work. If this isn’t a possibility, choose a parking spot that is far away to add a little more exercise to your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator when you come in. In general, put more steps and movement in your day whenever you have a chance to lower your risk of chronic illness and mental health issues.
  2. Take a walk during your breaks: Most states have labor laws that provide paid breaks for full-time, hourly employees. Take a walk during your breaks or even during your lunch. You may even want to consider getting a few coworkers together to form a fitness group to help each other stay motivated to stick to a daily fitness routine. Support from your coworkers can go a long way toward creating a healthier workplace for everyone.
  3. Schedule walking meetings: If you collaborate with coworkers on projects, assignments, or work-related issues, schedule a walking meeting. It’s not too hard to scratch down notes on a legal pad as your feet hit the pavement, and you and your coworkers will benefit from being more alert, inspired by a different environment, and may walk away more energized to tackle the work you’ve discussed.
  4. Keep a set of dumbbells at your desk: Keep some weights or other workout equipment at your desk. Make it a point to do a brief set of exercises every hour to keep your body moving throughout the day. This will help you get exercise in even if you’re too busy to hit the gym before or after work.

Taking a Stand for Health in the Workplace

As more information is revealed about the drawbacks of sitting at work all day, new variations on standing desks and adjustable-height desks are emerging all the time—from high-end versions to do-it-yourself versions. There are treadmill desks, standing desks with adjustable-height options, as well as exercise bikes with sliding desk platforms.

Many employers are also taking a stand for their employees’ health by offering a variety of wellness programs to help workers stay healthy and active. A recent RAND Corporation study showed that 51% of employers are offering some form of wellness program.

Some scientists are calling sitting the new smoking. Considering that more than 86% of Americans sit all day at their jobs, public health officials should consider investing in sitting-prevention programs similar to anti-smoking efforts.

Are you still sitting down?

Seek Help If You Feel Down Physically or Mentally

If your physical or mental health is affected by sitting through the majority of your waking hours, consider seeing a doctor or finding a qualified counselor or therapist to work on a plan to get you moving. Sedentary lifestyles are a major cause of suffering and illness. A medical health care professional can help you understand your issues and develop an action plan to improve them. A mental health care professional can address some of the emotional and behavioral issues that may result from (or even contribute to) a sedentary lifestyle.


  1. Fauntleroy, Glenda (2014). Staying Well at Work. CFAH: Center for Advancing Health. Retrieved from
  2. Henry, Alan (2013). The Hidden Psychological Benefits of a Standing Desk. Retrieved from
  3. Henry, Alan (2013). The Hidden Psychological Benefits of a Standing Desk. Retrieved from
  4. Lovett, Richard A. (2013). The killer (desk) job. Herald Tribune: HT Health. Retrieved from
  5. Olson, Lindsay (2013). Sitting Disease: The Slow, Silent and Sedentary Killer of the American Workforce. S. News. Retrieved from
  6. Park, Alice (2014). Sitting is killing you. Retrieved from
  7. Don’t Just Sit There. American Cancer Society Prevention Study II. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from
  8. Sitting, lack of exercise linked with symptoms of depression in new study. Posted September 2013. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Lawrence

    February 16th, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    I take a walk break every thirty minutes, no excuses I just get up from my desk and walk around the building- does the trick for me!

  • marc

    February 16th, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    When I can and the weather is nice I always go for a little exercise during my lunch hour. I hope that what I get to do during that time makes up a little for the time that I spend chained to my desk the rest of the day.

  • Kristina

    February 17th, 2015 at 6:32 AM

    The people I work with used to think that I was kinda stupid but I would get up every now and them and do some lunges and squats. I still do it but I think that they have all gotten so used to it that they don’t think that I am quite so crazy anymore.

  • MillieO

    February 17th, 2015 at 12:20 PM

    I think that there were a bunch of us at work who all started to feel this way at the same time so we kind of convinced our boss to give us a membership to a health club kind of like an incentive to lose weight and get healthy.
    It worked.
    we take fewer sick days and I think that we are all a little happier overall in that we feel better and honestly we all look a little better too.
    It has been a win/win for everyone

  • trace

    February 18th, 2015 at 12:40 PM

    It can always be a huge boost when the person standing next to you gives you some encouurageemnt

  • Jan

    February 19th, 2015 at 5:42 AM

    I just started using a standing work station to alleviate back pain and because of recent reports like yours regarding health risks for sitting too long. I’m finding I’m more energized during the day and have less aches and pains.

  • nurse shannon

    February 20th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    I am always on the move with my job as an RN. So I am always looking for a little time where I can sit down and take a little break!

  • Sonia

    February 21st, 2015 at 2:21 PM

    It would be so nice if our cities were actually built to encourage more physical activity! That was we would all be encouraged to walk or bike to work instead of depending on our cars to get us there. I know that there are times when we all want our space but there is something to be said for city living and having everything that you need within a short walk.

  • karl

    February 24th, 2015 at 3:56 AM

    We are such a sedentary society overall that it will be hard to break some of those patterns of laziness that have been established over the years but for our own physical well being we have to make an effort to do just that.

    I think that for many of us the workplace is going to be the perfect place to start! We are there almost more than we are anywhere else and there could be a natural support system with our co workers that we may not find at home.

  • trulia

    February 24th, 2015 at 3:27 PM

    Stepping away from my desk seems like a great idea but how do I do that when my boss is constantly on our backs about no breaks and stuff like that?
    he isn’t looking out for our well being, but he is more about the company bottom line.
    Any thoughts on how to approach that?>

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