Chained to your desk? 5 ways to stay healthy at work

How often have you stood up from your desk and stretched, feeling stiff after putting in hours of work with little movement—and little thought as to how it might affect your work?

The average American adult with children spends 8.7 hours working each weekday, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of that time is likely spent sitting. With research tying the amount of time we spend on our behinds to everything from obesity to cancer, staying healthy isn’t something that should just concern you at home, in your kitchen.

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Staying healthy at work and reducing the risks associated with sedentary behavior isn’t difficult. It requires small changes and a bit of effort.

1. Get off your seat

Sitting at your desk comes at a significant price. One analysis of 27 studies indicated that time spent sitting is associated not only with obesity, but with high cholesterol and blood pressure, self-esteem and social behavior issues in adolescents, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and increased risk of cancer. Another meta-analysis published online in the journal PLOS One found that adults sitting an average of 10 hours per day had a 34 percent higher mortality risk, even when their daily physical activity was taken into account.

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If you have a desk job, you don’t have to do it from your seat, and you don’t need a fancy standing desk to make the transition. Raise your keyboard with a box and tilt your monitor upward. Getting off of your rear end for even half your workday could not only reduce the potentially damaging effects of sitting, but also make you more productive.

2. Come prepared

You will snack. Whether out of stress, hunger or boredom, it will happen. And relying on the vending machine isn’t normally a healthy solution. Not everyone is fortunate enough to work at a startup like Google or NerdWallet, where snacks include healthy alternatives prepared in “microkitchens.” Unless you’re offered healthy choices at work daily, bring your own options. And do it consistently.

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3. Pay attention to your food

Eating at work provides a way to break from the constant mental engagement. For many, it’s a habit—that afternoon nosh session. But how many people actually stop what they’re doing and focus on their snack? Studies indicate that not paying attention to your eating habits can lead you to eat more and make poor food choices. So whether you’re having lunch or a midday snack, try to do it away from your desk and fully enjoy the break.

4. Relax

Approximately 80 percent of working Americans are under stress at their jobs, according to an Everest College survey. The stress could come from a paltry paycheck or combustive office relationships; regardless, it’s affecting your health. Stress increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic pain conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive distress and reproductive issues. Further, it can drive you to eat when you aren’t hungry, increasing your risk of obesity and a slew of health repercussions.

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5. Move your body

Moving your body is good for reducing stress, for working out the kinks associated with sitting at a desk and often good for working through tough decisions and problems that may elude you when staring at your computer screen. Research indicates that a brisk walk can also reduce snacking in workplace settings. So when you have the opportunity to step away, do it. Walk around the office or step outside for some fresh air.

For many of us, office work is a fact of life. But whether you love or loathe your work, your time on the job shouldn’t negatively affect your health.

Elizabeth Renter writes for NerdWallet Health, a website that helps people reduce their medical bills.