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Working in a little sweat

November 12, 2010
English: A desk in an office.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I sit at my computer typing these words, I’m moving my feet up and down as if jogging in place. A small movement, to be sure, but one that boosts my circulation and eases the pressure on my back from sitting for long stretches.

What I’m doing is pretty NEAT. Not in the sense of being “cool” but in the sense of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). That’s science-speak for the calories we burn by doing such daily activities as walking, shopping, climbing stairs and doing housework.

I learned about NEAT a few years ago when I read an interview with James Levine, M.D., a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist who studies NEAT and believes that by incorporating more movement into our daily lives, we can help offset the negative effects of sedentary jobs and lifestyles.

Levine certainly practices what he preaches. His tall desk straddles a treadmill so that he can walk at an easy pace while working on his computer or talking on the phone, and he also walks while meeting with staffers. The desk-topped treadmill concept, while very cool, clearly will take a while to catch on. But strolling in a hallway while talking business with a coworker or two? That seems easy enough.

In some office environments, though, this idea simply isn’t feasible. Many workplaces have no long hallways — only narrow aisles between cubicle mazes and offices — and even if they do, an on-the-go meeting would be tricky if you need to write notes or dig into files.

But Levine suggests several practical ways to integrate movement into work and home lives. Some examples: use the restroom farthest from your desk, go window-shopping during your lunch break, take a 30-minute walk after work, make meals from scratch instead of using prepared foods, march in place while watching TV.

Before reading Levine’s tips, I had already been walking around the office several times a day to go to the lunchroom for coffee, for example, or to talk to coworkers directly instead of emailing or phoning them. And I had set my PDA alarm to go off twice daily to remind myself to do stretches to loosen up my back and shoulders. But I still spent a disproportionate amount of time on my butt.

Levine’s advice inspired me to get more physical both at work and at home. I started standing up when answering the phone or retrieving things from the shelves and drawers in my cubicle instead of rolling my chair closer to the object or reaching for it from my chair. While chopping vegetables for dinner or standing at the stove, I would raise my heels up and down, balance on one foot, etc. — movements that I could manage without slicing my fingers along with the carrots.

Anyone who has read a fitness or women’s magazine in recent years has seen this kind of advice before, especially as it applies to personal time. But we have a long way to go before this get-active attitude is adopted in the workplace. We need to change the mindset that serious business can get done only if everyone is tied to a desk or sitting around a conference table. Verden -Gläsern- Der Jogger Years ago, businesses began replacing offices with cubicles so they could fit more staffers into a smaller, more affordable space — a trend seen as an office environment advance by everyone except those occupying the cubes. Why not make some true progress by designing workplaces to encourage physical activity? Why not give employees the option of using a treadmill or elliptical machine while working at a computer, answering the phones or performing other tasks that can be done easily while standing?

You could designate one area of the office for several active workstations, with traditional desks available when sitting is necessary or more practical. This may sound far-fetched, but at one time, so did the idea of telecommuting or conducting conferences via satellite. Having active workstations could benefit a company’s bottom line by trimming health insurance costs for employees, while also boosting morale and productivity. In the meantime, small steps could be taken to make workplaces more conducive to physical activity. For example:

  • Encourage staffers to use the stairs instead of the elevators by making the stairwells safe and colorful instead of the concrete-walled, poorly lit places many of them are. In one office building where I worked, the stairwells were dank, shadowy places used for little else than fire drills.
  • Enable employees to walk or go to the gym during their lunch break by scheduling meetings at times other than lunch hour. (A free lunch is no treat when fresh air and exercise are what you really need in the middle of your 9-to-5 day.)
  • Place copy and fax machines in a central location so that staff members can log a few minutes of exercise every time they use this equipment.

At home, there are many ways to incorporate small workouts into daily life. Favorites in my collection of tips include abdominal crunches while standing or driving, balancing on one foot while brushing your teeth, squeezing your shoulder blades together while showering, and using a basket instead of a shopping cart when at the supermarket.

What are your favorite mini-moves for work, home or drive time?

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use  of this material, including original photographs, without express and written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2010 4:13 pm

    I can honestly say that I have been found doing push-ups on the kitchen floor while I’m waiting for water to boil, or lunges, OR I download a 10 minute youtube video and we’ve got pilates or yoga! I highly recommend this one instructor, Cassie. She’ peppy and motivational when you’ve got 10 minutes. Pacing while on the phone is always a good calorie burner!

    • November 18, 2010 4:42 pm

      I’ll add these to my collection (well, maybe not the one about push-ups…) & will check out the video. Thanks!

  2. November 29, 2010 3:04 pm

    I dont blame you Janice! The push-up trick is a little freakish. :-). How was the Turkey Day? I feel the need to go for a run now.

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