You may have heard the saying, “Sitting is the new smoking,” referring to the damage that prolonged sitting does to mental and physical health. (Check out the book Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, and you’ll never want to do a two-hour stretch in a chair again.) How bad is sitting? According to the Mayo Clinic, sitting more than four hours a day can raise risk of cardiovascular disease by about 125 percent. But unless your business involves training athletes, employees probably have to spend a lot of time sitting at desks and staring at screens.
To help employees break the sitting habit, it’s important to create a culture where frequent stretching and movement breaks are encouraged, not frowned on. For example, SurveyMonkey used Grokker to offer a weekly 5-minute stretch break every Friday in the cafeteria for the month of April. The first stretch break was led by the SurveyMonkey CEO, encouraging employees to attend and prioritize the break. Even after the monthly initiative was over, employees kept up the practice in their own smaller groups. The best way to get the chair-bound up and moving is a combination of stretching-friendly equipment and ideas.
If the budget can’t cover Aeron chairs, devote some of the office equipment budget to supplies that support employee stretching and movement. Yoga or exercise balls in various sizes cost in the $20 range, cheap enough to bring a bunch into most workspaces. Prevention magazine offers good tips on alternating standard chair-sitting with exercise ball-sitting.
Desks and tables that allow employees to stand can also help combat fatigue from sitting. If you’re not ready to invest in standing desks, high-top meeting tables in conference rooms and break areas are a good compromise. In a recent study of strategies to decrease employees’ sitting times, standing tables in high-traffic office areas played a role in breaking old habits of sitting for every meeting.
There are many easy desk and office stretches that don’t require extra equipment, and only take a few minutes here and there to complete. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a great resource for stretching ideas that you can share with employees – like single-leg squats that use desks for balance. Healthline also offers this “ultimate list” of desk stretches, complete with GIFs so employees can position themselves correctly while stretching.
A few simple changes in how employees move around the office can cut down significantly on desk time. Walking meetings may be the first idea that comes to mind, but many people don’t know how to structure them so they’re both constructive and therapeutic. ACE’s guide to walking meetings offers ideas for keeping attendees focused on work while they get some exercise, like buying lanyards with special ID tags to wear while walking. “When co-workers see you wearing a ‘meeting in session’ sign, they will know not to interrupt,” ACE advises.
To remind employees of the importance of getting up from their desks (and to show your support for this goal), show off this ACE “Take a Stand Against Sitting” infographic on your intranet, on Slack, or on break room bulletin boards. By reinforcing the stretching vs. sitting message, hopefully you’ll encourage employees to add movement to the workday.