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Office deskercise

Is doing exercise at your desk the answer to workplace wellness? We sort the hype from the facts

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woman stretching at desk

The hype

A sedentary workplace culture coupled with an inactive commute and evenings spent on the sofa has led wellness experts to dub sitting as ‘the new smoking’. Being physically still for long periods of time can lead to back pain, poor posture, leg cramps, tense muscles and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and also increases the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease, as it sets off a chain reaction of physiological disturbances that affect metabolic health.

In a bid to undo the damage, ‘deskercise’ is gaining credibility. Adjustable desk treadmills and wireless phone headsets (that permit walking while talking) are now available and recently, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) released six desk exercises after a survey and a poll from the British Heart Foundation revealed that four out of 10 office employees walk for less than 30 minutes a day, only 19 per cent leave their desks to go outside for a break, and a third of workers are even put off going to the toilet as they feel tied to their desks.

Office workouts seem the perfect solution, but do they really encourage healthier work/life habits? Or is regular ‘deskercise’ still not enough to combat the ill effects of the sedentary office life?

The facts

An American study* on the effects of increased movement in the workplace recorded the activities of 18 employees who were monitored by a device on their belts for six months. With the help of treadmill desks and wireless headsets, the employees collectively lost more than 150lb, most of it in body fat and their cholesterol and triglyceride levels also showed a decline.

‘Sitting for long periods of time increases anxiety and depression, as it reduces the levels of feelgood hormones serotonin and oxytocin,’ explains Olympian and Deep Heat ambassador Toby Garbett. Desk exercise allows for a breakthat improves mood.

Harry Jameson, founder of Jameson Fitness Retreats, believes that beyond doing pelvic floor exercises while seated, desk exercise isn’t beneficial. ‘Instead, snack healthily to fuel a proper post-work fitness session.’

Current recommendations are 30 minutes of exercise five times a week to raise our heart rate. But is desk exercise realistic? Standing desks are not widely used, and treadmill desks less so as they are expensive and cumbersome. If, however, desk exercise is viewed as a tool to decrease the time we spend sitting, and included as part of a wider fitness regime, then it has our seal of approval. If you do spend a long time on the phone each day, a wireless headset could really help – wander the corridor, or even take those calls outside, to get the blood pumping. And a brisk stretch every hour will promote increased oxygenation – do them on the way to the toilet or water-dispenser.

But deskercise is not a suitable replacement for a proper workout. Ultimately, our feeling is that we all need to leave the office to remain healthy, not spend more time at our desks exercising.

*Mayo clinic, 2007

Photograph: iStock