How to Be More Active at Your Desk Job, According to a Pilates Instructor

woman sitting at work desk

 Iris Wang/Unsplash

Chances are you have a job that requires you to be sitting at your desk for most of the day. According to the American Health Association, over 80 percent of U.S. jobs are predominantly sedentary and as the organization underscores with recent research: it isn't doing any favors for our health. Sitting for hours on end could actually be killing us. "The truth is, there are a lot of serious effects from sitting all day," warns Katie Bilodeau, a human resources professional and pilates instructor. She lists that a sedentary job can lower your metabolism and increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and deep-vein thrombosis, just to name a few. "It also affects the tightness of our muscles, stiffening our joints and compressing our spine if we're not sitting correctly," she adds.

While these health risks certainly aren't what you signed up for when you got the job, there are effective ways to redesign your daily routine to combat the effects of sitting all day. No one should be surprised that most of Bilodeau's advice is structured around moving more. "Movement doesn't just help our body, but it has a vast impact on our brains and our overall mood," she notes. "It signals to the brain to up the production of our feel-good neurotransmitters, aka endorphins and increasing endorphins or our serotonin levels basically tells our brain to be happy and lower our stress hormones." With her decade of experience in HR and her background in fitness and wellness, we had Bilodeau walk us through her favorite ways to make your desk job less sedentary.

Get up Every Few Hours

You may think the easiest way to reverse the effects of sitting at your desk is exercising outside of the office. And you're not entirely wrong. But it's important to do a bit more than that. "Obviously working out is very beneficial to our bodies, but if you're sitting all day, your body will still be impacted regardless of if you worked out or not," explains Bilodeau. You can maintain your regular workout schedule, but if you're sedentary for prolonged periods, your body is still going to be negatively affected. The best way to combat that? "Get up and move between those long periods of sitting!" Meaning, go for walks during the day (choose a lunch spot a few blocks away from the office), or even take a few stretch breaks.

Meet the Expert

Katie Bilodeau is a certified nutrition consultant and pilates instructor with ten years of experience in HR.

Take Walking Meetings

Bilodeau strongly advises getting up and moving at least once every hour. One way to work this into your daily routine is to take walking meetings. "If you need to talk to somebody in the office, go walk with them rather than message or call them," proposes Bilodeau. "Let's face it, face-to-face interaction is more effective—too much emotion or intention get lost over written communication." And, rather than sitting across from them in conference room, you can schedule in times to move your body by meeting with them on the move.

Get Out of the Office

Leaving the office for even a handful of minutes can also be a step in the right direction for your health. "Go for a walk midday to get coffee or just around the block," suggests Bilodeau. "The movement will increase your blood flow, you'll get some vitamin D, likely get your creative juices flowing, plus you'll get work done. It's a win-win in my book."

Optimize Your Seating Situation

"You first want to make sure your desk setup is ergonomically correct for your body," states Bilodeau. Walking us through the steps to ensure this, she says to first adjust your chair height so your knees are level with your hips. When resting on your desk, your hands should be at elbow height and your monitor should be an arms-length away from you. Your monitor should also be at eye level so your neck is never tilted up or down (Bilodeau recommends investing in a monitor stand to ensure this). Finally, Bilodeau advises you use a chair that supports your spinal curves. A footrest and lumbar support cushion are her favorite add-on desk products. Additionally, she recommends sitting up tall on your sit-bones (as to not create tension in your body) and to make sure you're not constantly hunched over (which will create compression in your spine). Instead, keep your shoulders down away from your ears and relax your jaw.

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Sneak Some Stretching into the Day

In addition to making more time to walk, Bilodeau recommends sneaking in some stretches throughout the day. "Stand up, raise your arms overhead, and nod your chin to your chest," she suggests. She continues, "Slowly roll down, letting each vertebra move until your hands are as close to the floor as you can get them. This will create space from the compression and will stretch your hamstrings." Bilodeau also loves anything that's going to open your hip flexors, like a standing thigh stretch. "It's very simple—while standing, grab one ankle and bring that heel as close to your butt as you can, while balancing on the other leg," she explains. "This will stretch your quads and open your hips up after sitting all day."

Stand Whenever You Can

Standing desks are a popular option to break the habit of sitting all day. Still, if you're going to try one, it's important to make sure you're standing with good posture. "Standing desks are great in theory, but you want to make sure you're standing in the ideal alignment for your body," notes Bilodeau. Even if you don't have a standing desk, there are plenty of ways you can integrate more standing into your day. Bilodeau recommends standing for calls. "If you have to call somebody, stand up at your desk while you're on the phone," she suggests.

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Remember, every body is different

While Bilodeau's biggest piece of advice is to move as much as you can, she also wants us to listen to our bodies. "Know your body—every body is different," she reminds us. "Therefore, my best piece of advice is to find a trusted pilates instructor or trainer to assess your body and how it moves, and help you figure out what's best for you."

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