Increasing Your Productivity and Health in the Workplace

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What is a Sedentary Lifestyle?

Are you sitting right now? You probably are. Most people spend at least 6 to 8 hours a day sitting behind a desk at work. Then they go home and sit some more, usually in front of the TV or reading a book, this is called a sedentary lifestyle. According to Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson, studies now show that the effects of sitting for extended periods puts a person's health at risk even if they engage in a regular exercise program.

The health hazards and risks associated with sitting all day are numerous, effecting your joints, muscles, and every part of your body. Remember, your body is the only one you will ever have.

harmful effects of sitting on the body infographic

6 Ways to Add Physical Activity in the Workplace

Don't quit your day job as a solution to sitting all the time, but don't let your body suffer because of a sedentary work life. Making changes throughout your workday can have a big impact on your overall health. Here are six simple changes you can make to add activity at work, increasing workplace productivity among employees.

  1. Have walking meetings
  2. Stand or walk while on conference calls
  3. Print documents on a printer that's across the office or on another floor
  4. Take the stairs
  5. Walk or bike to work
  6. Walk during your lunch break

Proper Desk Ergonomics

If you do have to sit even for a short time during your workday, what is the right way? The following are some tips to keep in mind when you are sitting, and, in addition to these tips, you may want to support your lower back as needed.

  • Don't lean forward at your desk
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed
  • Keep your arms close to your sides
  • Bend your elbows at 90 degrees
  • Keep feet flat on the floor

Another step you can take is to consider a healthier desk alternative. There are now standing desks, treadmill desks and bike desks available for any office environment no matter the shape or size. Some are singular desk solutions and others are a modular design allowing you to sit and stand throughout the day, allowing you the ease of adding exercise desks while still completing all your daily tasks, making you more productive overall. Keep in mind you will also want to consider proper standing desk ergonomics when selecting a desk alternative.

Benefits of Walking While Working

Thinking about adding a treadmill desk in your office but have concerns they might affect--potentially decrease--productivity? Research now indicates otherwise. Productivity can actually improve, and office workers report higher energy levels, greater concentration when performing tasks, and an increase in workplace productivity while using a treadmill desk.

Research conducted by the University of Minnesota (UMN) and published in the journal Obesity confirms that using a treadmill desk has a variety of benefits. The study analyzed the effects of walking on a treadmill throughout the workday. They concluded that the work performance of people who used a treadmill desk for a year didn't decline after a very brief, initial adjustment to the change. In fact, the study found that both overall employee productivity and health improved.

Carlson School of Management professor of Work and Organizations, Avner Ben-Ner, and his coauthors analyzed employees using treadmill desks instead of office chairs as they worked. For one year, these employees in a financial 1services company volunteered to swap out their regular seated desk for a treadmill desk. The study found that the employees burned 7 to 8% more calories per day, walking from 0 to 2 MPH, than before the study began and there was nearly a 1-point increase in productivity (based on 10-point scale).

Adding activity at work and moving throughout the day isn’t a new idea. Previous studies found people are more productive after exercising compared to days they don't exercise. Work quality, mental performance and time management all improve on days when employees exercise.

Ben-Ner calls the outcome of the UMN study a win-win. It's a health-improving option that costs very little. I think there will be an increasing number of employers who will invest $1,000 or $2,000 in outfitting a persons' workstation, he says. The employer benefits from the employee being active and healthy and more smart because more blood is flowing to the brain. Ben-Ner suggests that future research examine various circumstances that could affect employee performance.

Increasing Your Productivity and Health in the Workplace

Health and Wellness Benefits

Weight Loss:

Dr. James Levine, the famous Mayo Clinic physician, began studying the impact of active working on fat loss in in 2007, finding calorie burn during simple walking to be significantly greater than while sitting, and even standing. Levine and his team concluded that walking-and-working can result in weight loss of up to 45 – 65 pounds per year. The University of Pittsburgh validated these findings in a similar study published in 2015.

weight loss

Biometric Health:

Long-term studies completed by the University of Massachusetts found treadmill desks to reduce waist and hip circumference by an average of 6%, while simultaneously improving LDL and total cholesterol by 7%. Additional analysis completed by the University of Prince Edward Island discovered improvements to both employee blood glucose and blood pressure, all without reducing worksite productivity.


Mental Wellness:

Purdue University researchers studied nearly 200 subjects to determine the psychological impact from using active workstations. Their results determined treadmill desk users to display 13% higher job satisfaction and 12% greater task stimulation than their seated counterparts. Treadmill walkers similarly experienced 30% less workplace stress and boredom, while maintaining task-specific efficiency.

injury and recovery

Benefits For Injury Recovery and Pain Management

Improved Acute Back Pain:

According to the American College of Rheumatology, 650 million individuals suffer from low back pain (LBP) at any given moment. Researchers from La Trobe University studied the impact of treadmill desk use on subjects suffering from LBP, ultimately finding the intervention to be a highly beneficial method of pain management. After six weeks of continued walking, all participants reported complete recovery from the episode of LBP.

reduce joint pain

Reduced Joint Pain:

Researchers from the University of Tel Aviv studied more than 50 professionals suffering from joint pain. The team found 20-40 minutes of simple walking, three times a week, to be as effective for joint pain as treatment in a clinical setting. Dr. Katz-Leurer lead researcher on the project, noted that the walking intervention also lowered blood pressure, boosted brain and immune system functioning, and reduced stress.

improve chronic back pain

Improved Chronic Back Pain:

Chronic LBP is commonly treated with moderate success in clinical settings. Researchers found patient comfort to significantly improve when a walking intervention was added to traditional treatment. Pain relief from walking was so effective that 78% of patients were still satisfied with their result a full year following treatment, a 15% increase over the traditional treatment group. 

chronic lbp