How To Stay Healthy While Working At A Desk Job

You’re sitting at a desk all day and you notice your weight changing. And not for the better. 

You notice you’re developing tension in your shoulders. And the urge to crack your neck. Sitting down for hours at a time is starting to feel unnatural. Perhaps like so many of us you’re wondering how to stay healthy at a desk job.

Rewind to 1970: 20 percent of Americans were working a job classified as “low activity” (i.e. office work, desk jobs). Rates of diabetes hovered around 2 percent for women and less than 3 percent for men. Obesity remained a rare, almost exotic diagnosis in the United States.

Today approximately 60 percent of Americans work a desk job, diabetes rates are approaching 10 percent and rates of obesity have increased 10-fold.

As a nation, Americans have become less active and less fit at an astounding rate. While not everyone has the option (or desire) to transition to a more active work life, there are plenty of ways to mitigate the effects of a sedentary job with simple lifestyle tweaks and a bit of willpower.

Simple dietary choices, a schedule adjustment and a little sweat are all within reach and can help offset the hours spent at a desk.

Make these 5 changes to your lifestyle and you might see results

  1. Up the exercise
  2. Engage in micro-workouts between responsibilities
  3. Are you overeating?
  4. Stretch at your desk
  5. Try a high-fat, low carb diet

How To Stay Healthy At A Desk Job

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1. Up the exercise

Your body is never fully at rest. Even as you sit at your desk, calories are burned to keep you alive. Your lungs expand and contract, your heart pumps blood and your brain (the hungriest organ in your body) consumes energy every moment of the day. This is known as your basal metabolic rate.

But, what if you could increase the amount of energy burned throughout the day even if you spend the same 9 hours sitting at the same desk?

Numerous studies have shown that you can do exactly this, by upping the exercise to increase your basal metabolic rate. In both men and women, resistance training (such as weight lifting, or body-weight exercises like vigorous yoga or pilates) has been shown to increase the basal metabolic rate by 4-10 percent. That is, depending on the type and duration of exercise of course.

To achieve this, the exercise has to push past the barriers of comfort. No,walk around the block doesn’t count. You should be out of breath and feeling the unmistakable burn of lactic acid in your muscles.

Doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or a 60-minute weight-lifting session before work can keep the basal metabolic rate elevated all day. This should work to offset the lack of physical activity at your desk.

Keep reaching for the coffee when you’re tired? Here are 4 easy diet keep you alert at work.

2. Engage in micro-workouts between responsibilities 

Exercise doesn’t have to eat up your day.

The Mayo Clinic and the UK’s National Health Service both recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, but studies have shown similar benefits between numerous 10-minute bouts and one 30 minute session.

As for health tips for office workers, try to break up the long hours of sitting with a few short bursts of energy. These can be easily achieved without interrupting a normal schedule.

For example, instead of taking the bus all the way to the front door of your office, get off a stop early and walk the last section at a brisk pace. Or better yet, ride your bike to the office!

If these don’t work for you, try adding a couple of 10-minute breaks to your day to do a spirited walk around the neighbourhood.

One walk to your morning coffee shop, a walk during your lunch break and a post-dinner speed walk by your neighbours’ houses can easily add up to 30 minutes on an average day.

Make one of these a HIIT session and you’re already an overachiever!

It doesn’t all have to be cardiovascular exercise, either. The minimum exercise guidelines suggest some strength training. This should increase your basal metabolic rate and help stave off age-related declines in bone density.

And you don’t even have to hit up the gym: use a push mower to clean up your lawn, if you have one. Or, head to your local park and use the public facilities to power through some push-ups, pull-ups and planks.

3. Are you overeating?

One of the primary problems with sedentary work is the likelihood that most people eat as though they’re much more active than they were. 

In fact, rates of snacking, portion sizes and the caloric density of food have all steadily increased in the same time period as the levels of job-related activity have decreased.

People tend to eat as much (or more) than their parents and grandparents did, while doing much less to utilize those calories.

In the last 15 years alone, the percentage of people who consume multiple snacks every day has increased nearly three-fold. In fact, snacks alone make up nearly 25 percent of the total calories consumed by the average American today.

Opting out of daily snacks without changing the rest of your eating habits is, therefore, the equivalent of removing an entire meal from your day!

This, an average of almost 600 calories, can bring most people back within the guidelines of a healthy daily intake.

A few easy fixes can correct this imbalance: snack less, eat a high-fat, low-carb diet and control portion sizes. Use apps that can help you understand how many calories are in what you’re eating and how much exercise you should be doing to burn the extra meal off. MyFitnessPal is free and very useful. 

4. Stretch at your desk

The sedentary life associated with a desk job can lead to a myriad of health problems. But simple steps and minor adjustments to one’s lifestyle can mitigate these dangers.

Consider every hour standing up and moving your whole body about to get the blood flowing. That might mean going for a walk to the bathroom or the kitchen every hour. 

Stretching is even better. Do some basic exercises to ensure your body isn’t straining or sitting in an unusual position for hours at a time. 

The easiest stretch to do while your sitting is to drop your head forwards, lift it up again and then move your neck from side to side to release neck tension. 

Healthline recommends doing stretches for the whole body. They recommend a series of neck, arm, hamstring and shoulder stretches, to name a few. Your body will thank you. 

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5. Try a high-fat, low carb diet

But snacks help you break through that afternoon slump, or get over the morning lull, right? Well, this may have more to do with the rest of your diet than any real need for more calories.

A plethora of studies supports the implementation of a high-fat, low carb diet controls energy levels. Why? Every time you eat carbs your insulin levels spike, making your body crazy carbs a few hours later.

If you eat more fat, and fewer carbs, you are less likely to get these insulin spikes that impact your energy levels and hunger frequency. 

Levels of blood-markers for low-energy and cravings for quick-hit foods like simple sugars and carbohydrates are significantly lower in people following a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.

You can also try the ketogenic diet taking the fitness world by storm. Normally our bodies are fuelled on glucose (sugar) that comes from carbs. The keto diet simply means you eat fewer than 20 grams (women) and 50 grams (men) of carbs a day to force your body into using a different type of fuel – fat.

Key Takeaways On How To Stay Healthy At A Desk Job

The main goal is to avoid spending your whole shift sitting sedentary while eating unhealthy foods. 

Be sure to get up once in a while and go for a walk and make healthy food choices throughout the day. 

Also think about doing a mini-workout throughout the day. In addition, a few less snacks or a high-fat diet can all make significant dents in these problems induced by an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. 

Best of luck with your journey to health and happiness!

Thea Christie

Written By Thea Christie

Thea is the Content Marketing Lead at Advesa and possesses a strange love of grammar, syntax and punctuation. In the past, she’s worked as a content specialist for publications in the startup, SME and tech space. When she’s not storytelling, she’s busy being a travel junkie. @theachristie