At my previous job, I might as well have been sitting on a spring—it was rare that I sat at my desk for an hour straight. I worked as an editor for a cooking magazine, and test cooks would call over the intercom whenever food was ready to taste in the kitchen. Getting up several times a day to eat prime rib, peanut-butter cookies, or fried chicken, I used to think that this was a recipe for poor health—turns out, calories aside, this frequent movement is exactly what more and more health professionals are prescribing for office workers: Sitting for lengthy periods of time, like at your computer from 9 to 5, can be linked to many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Short of trading our ergonomic office chairs for hamster wheels, what are we to do?
Here are nine ideas that I came up with to work movement into my work day.
1. Drink water, smarter.
One healthy habit I currently employ at the office is drinking water. I keep a large water bottle at arm’s reach and guzzle two or three bottles each day. I’m so used to it that the second that I take the last sip, I jump out of my chair for a refill. That got me thinking: What if I switched to a smaller vessel or even just filled up my water bottle halfway instead of to the top? It would cause me to walk to the water cooler more often, increasing my movement.
2. Don’t hit send.
It’s tempting to communicate with your coworkers via email, even if they’re only a few steps away. Start analyzing when this is necessary (because sometimes a paper trail is helpful) and when it’s a bad habit that you can trade for a good one. If that’s the case, walk to their office and deliver the message in person.
3. Keep a “mobile” to-do list.
I often have more than one sticky note going at a time on my desk: One for daily tasks I want to accomplish, one for topics to discuss with my manager at our next meeting, another for bursts of creativity for future projects—why not fill one with tasks that require me to move? It’s hard to get up from your desk to aimlessly roam the halls, but if I had a visual reminder that I need to run to the supply closet or chat with a coworker about a client, for example, I’d be more likely to unchain myself from my desk.
4. Take your meeting out of the conference room.
I’ve heard of people scheduling “walking meetings,” where walking and talking is part of the deal. In fact, the presenter of a much-viewed TED talk, Nilofer Merchant, said she logs 20 to 30 miles a week from this practice. I like the idea, but I imagine that it doesn’t work across all professions. What if your dress code doesn’t accommodate such a jaunt? Or not everyone who is part of the meeting is on-board? Still I think it could be worth trying, and it could work really well for a conference call that you could literally take mobile on your cell phone.
5. Sign up for (or better yet start) an office walking challenge.
Many workplaces sponsor fitness challenges, so don’t just sit there—join in! If yours doesn’t, then start one. The American Heart Association offers resources and there are even free pedometer apps, like this one from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to log your group’s progress.
6. Park and walk.
I consider parking near the front door my first victory for the day, but I probably should reverse that thought process. While choosing a parking spot at the end of the lot won’t increase my activity throughout the day, adding to my total movement won’t hurt either.
7. Schedule reminders.
When you’re absorbed in a project, you can stay in your chair for hours on end. Why not set a reminder? Apple CEO, Tim Cook, thinks this is such a good idea that he built movement reminders into the Apple Watch. In case you don’t have one on your wrist, here’s a simple solution available through Windows—and never fear Mac users, there is an app for that, too.
8. Take the long way.
There are usually two routes to get somewhere, and I bet you take the quickest way to the mailroom, printer, and kitchenette. (I do, too.) Let’s stop. Instead, choose the route with a few more steps to maximize movement.
9. Say hello.
It sounds simple but make it a point to go out of your way to say hello to a different coworker every day. You never know, you might just inspire others to get out of their chair and say hello to you, too.