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How Increasing Physical Activity at Work Improves Health

Physical activity at work

Do you want to increase your physical activity at work but still be productive? Try a walking meeting.


Many of us with typical office jobs spend a lot of time each day behind a desk. Even if we aren’t sitting in our office chairs, we are likely sitting somewhere else in the office either in a meeting or in the lunch room. As we already know, lack of physical activity is a risk factor for many conditions, including weight gain and obesity.

Instead of sitting for a typical meeting, encourage your office workers to join you in moving more. Changing just one meeting per week into a “walking meeting” increases physical activity by 10 minutes which can lead to improving the health of millions of white-collar workers.

Researchers with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine studied a group of typical office workers by having them wear accelerometers to measure their activity during the workday over a three week period. The group was given a “walking meeting protocol” that included guidance for leading meetings and taking notes while walking.

The average combined moderate/vigorous physical activity reported by participants increased from 107 minutes in the first week to 117 minutes in week three of the study.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week (30 minutes per day) of moderate-intensity physical activity for adults.

"There are limited opportunities for physical activity at work. This walking meeting pilot study provides early evidence that white-collar workers find it feasible and acceptable to convert a traditional seated meeting into a walking meeting," said the study's principal investigator, Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of public health sciences.

"Physical activity interventions such as the walking meeting protocol that encourage walking and raise levels of physical activity in the workplace are needed to counter the negative health effects of sedentary behavior."

Previous studies have proven that engaging in moderate exercise, which includes brisk walking, for as little as 15 minutes per day can add up to three years of life expectancy.

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A separate study from Clemson University concurs with increasing physical activity in the workplace, not only for physical benefits, but also for improvements to mental health.

June J. Pilcher, alumni distinguished professor of psychology, says, “"We hurt ourselves by working in conditions that encourage sedentary activity. But incorporating physical activity in a practical way in the workplace may actually improve physical and mental health without detracting from our ability to work or study effectively."

Dr. Pilcher’s research team looked into treadmill workstations and FitDesk bikes as a way to increase activity during the work or school day.

While some may worry that exercising while doing a task would be distracting, Pilcher was happy to find that complex cognitive performance was similar and stable when using the FitDesk and the traditional desk. This suggests no drawback to the use of light physical movement while at work or study.

But what the study did find is that positive affect, motivation and morale increased when using the FitDesk, but not the traditional desk.

"Those findings were particularly striking to me," Pilcher said. "Improving positive affect could mean improved problem-solving, decision-making, responsibility and creativity, all important implications for the workplace. If there are no real drawbacks and you feel comfortable, you might as well be pedaling while you work."

University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine. "Walking meetings could brings longer and healthier lives to office workers." ScienceDaily, 1 July 2016.
June J. Pilcher, Victoria C. Baker. Task Performance and Meta-Cognitive Outcomes When Using Activity Workstations and Traditional Desks. Frontiers in Psychology, 2016; 7 DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00957

Photo Credit: By LaurMG. - Cropped from "File:Frustrated man at a desk.jpg"., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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