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Get Up and Move!

Posted by: Frank Sherman

I already know I’ve been sitting at my desk too long as I settle in to write this. It’s time for me to get up and move. But let me get a few more sentences down – and answer these emails that just popped up – and revise that document the client says they need - I’ve got to take this call, back in a minute…. Before I know it another hour has passed and here I am still planted in my chair. Have I been productive? I suppose, but I am only six sentences into the task I set out to do, and I feel I have not moved an inch, which is literally true if you don’t count the slight shifting of the chair. I am rooted at my desk and that’s not such a great thing.

Being sedentary is bad for your health. That’s a pretty obvious statement. Most of us spend a good portion of our day sitting. On average Americans sit 9.5 hours a day; a good portion of which is done at work. According to Dr. James Levine; “Sitting is the new smoking” and it is killing us. Research indicates that sitting for extended periods for more than six hours a day increases blood pressure, obesity, and the risk for diabetes, depression and some types of cancer. Research in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health concludes that prolonged sitting puts people over 60 at a higher risk of disabilities. It affects your mental health and reduces your life expectancy. So are you ready to get up and move?

As architects, we are the designers of - and users of - the modern workplace. Along with managers and workplace experts we have been reinventing it for years. The workplace is a complex endeavor with a lot of moving parts, but the part I am ruminating on is the sedentary worker. Good workplace design has always been concerned with occupant comfort and productivity. The green building movement puts a focus on occupant health and well-being. Technology has untethered us and made us more mobile and progressive generations of office workers bring new ways of working. We are working harder, but are we working smarter?

Before I delve into the things you can do to move more, I want to take a diversion into the nature of modern work life. We are all incredibly busy and pressured to be successful and productive at what we do. And there are so many things to do each day! We multi-task, we juggle, we list, label and prioritize. We jump and shift from one thing to the next to get it all done, and we pride ourselves on being multi-taskers extraordinaire. But studies have shown that we are not really that good at it and multi-tasking is not all that it is cracked up to be. We try to do too much at once and the quality of our attention wanes. All the things we need to get done never seem to get done, and we sigh as we type out the email that says “can’t meet you for lunch, chained to my desk”. In our pursuit to do it all and do it well we may be doing ourselves in. Perhaps there is a better way.

On the one hand, technology now brings everything to us; there is no need to walk downstairs to speak with a coworker, or go to the library and search for a book, or even walk to the store. Time pressures and living patterns drive us to use our cars for speed and convenience instead of using our feet. The world is at our fingertips. At least when the future was at your doorstep you had to walk to the door, but now not so much. The point is Americans once were inherently active all day long, now we have to find ways to be more active. Since we spend a lot of our work day being sedentary, being active at work takes on more urgency. I was recently given a Fitbit for my birthday. It tracks my activity levels throughout the day. On the weekend it is no problem meeting my activity goals, but during the workweek I find it a lot more challenging. I am not active enough over the course of the day.

The answer is NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. In non-acronym language this means getting up and moving around more often throughout the day. Working out before or after work does not adequately counteract the negative health effects of being sedentary all day long. The best thing you can do is work out a way to move more at work, but you need not break a sweat to achieve results; an easy pace works just fine. Here are some ideas to help you move and be more active:

Take a Stand Against Sitting – regardless of how ergonomically correct your chair may be, sitting for extended periods is bad for you, so stand whenever you can. Need to take a phone call? Stand. Need to discuss something with a coworker? Stand. One trend in progressive offices is adjustable height desks that allow you to stand while you work. It’s not that much of a stretch to modify your work area to allow you to stand more.

It Is More of A Stretch – getting up to stretch once an hour works wonders for mind and body. We are not talking full out downward dog pose, but take a few moments to flex your hips, stretch your calves, arms, and fingers, and realign your spine. You will feel better and be more focused on the work at hand.

Walk and Talk – I know the joke that some people can’t do two things at the same time, but these two are quite complimentary. A walking conversation keeps your mind alert. Some executives have adopted the walking meeting as an effective way to get more done with their team.

Tour the Office – ever feel like you don’t know what’s going on? Well get off your butt and walk around the office. It’s good exercise; you will run into coworkers and start spontaneous conversations. Serendipity happens! For years designers have been designing workplaces that promote interaction and chance meetings; in the hall, on the stairs (yes, take the stairs!) in the common areas. This is interaction by design and it’s good for business and good for your health.

Meet Face to Face – there are so many reasons why this is good for you. In terms of activity, meet with people outside of your work area. Don’t book the closest conference room, walk a little and don’t always have people come to you.

Put Your Printer Out of Reach – we are too accustomed to having everything at our fingertips. The printer I use is across the office. Walking to get my printing gets me out of my chair, and for those of you who are thinking “that’s not very green of you to print all those documents”, remember that life is a balance.

Don’t Work Through Lunch – now this is one that I am guilty of. Are we really more productive if we work straight through lunch? Probably not. Stop what you are doing, get up, walk away from your work mentally and physically, and you will likely get more accomplished, be more active, and feel better at the end of the day. Even better, physically leave the office at least once during the day. Use your lunch time to take a short walk and be healthy.

Use Public Transportation – or better yet go pedestrian. I know this is not for everyone; increasingly where we work is nowhere near where we live, and public transportation options are not always available. But public transportation is a great alternative if it is available to you. You walk to access public transportation, and if you are lucky enough to live and work in an urban environment you can walk or bike to and from work. My brother’s new job requires him to walk a mile and half from the train to the office, and he thinks that’s great.

Miss Your Stop on Purpose – I love this one. It goes against all common sense which is what I am prone to do. Allow yourself the luxury of time and space to walk a little more and explore your world.

Being sedentary is killing us, not our jobs or our workload. How we manage these things keep us healthy and sane. No matter how well your work environment is designed, if you do not find time to be active you decrease your longevity. Physical activity helps your cognitive ability, decreases stress, improves your mood, and can make you more productive. Your body, your loved ones, even your boss will appreciate it if you are more active throughout the day.

I just checked my Fitbit and no surprise; I have not been very active the past two hours. It’s time to wrap up this post.  It’s Time to get up and move!

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