Staying healthy on the job: work station wellness tips
Aug. 15, 2012
When Carol Kennedy-Armbruster thinks about Return on Investment, she’s thinking about dollars AND employees’ quality of life.
The workplace wellness expert says healthy employees consume fewer health care dollars, are more functional on the job, tend to be absent or injured less often and return to work sooner after injuries.
“Basically, healthy employees cost less,” Kennedy-Armbruster, assistant professor in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, said during a presentation at the Indiana Joint National Public Health Week Conference. A board member of the Wellness Council of Indiana, which is part of the Indiana Chamber, Kennedy-Armbruster's work also takes her to Navy bases, where she oversees fitness specialists who work with Navy officers.
More gyms aren’t the answer, but sitting less and standing more might be.
Fifty years ago, jobs requiring moderate amounts of physical activity accounted for half of the labor market, a figure Kennedy-Armbruster said has shrunk to 20 percent. A growing amount of research is finding that even people who meet federal guidelines for daily physical activity face a shorter life span and other health risks if they sit for too many hours during the day. A “desk job,” she said, essentially can wipe out gains from daily exercise.
“We need to think about work differently. There's this feeling that if you don't sit at a desk from 8 to 5 then you're not working,” she said.
How about a walking meeting instead of a lunch meeting? Or the use of standing desks? Kennedy-Armbruster and her co-presenter, Jane Ellery, from Ball State University, walked their standing-room-only audience through three exercises that can be performed daily at work to improve health:
- Take a few minutes to relax and take five slow, deep breaths, which can help reduce stress.
- Move from a seated position to a standing position several times, ultimately doing so without using the arms of your chair to strengthen leg muscles.
- Put a paper plate under one foot and move the plate in small circles while seated. Switch directions and then switch feet. Do the same exercise while standing. This will help keep the hips limber.
Deanna Cooper, wellness assistant for the Center for Health Promotion at IU East, said employees can incorporate small changes in their work day to counter some of the effects of prolonged sitting.
Ergonomic ball chairs, for example, are becoming more popular on her campus. Cooper said they increase core strength and help build better posture. Employees also can add strength bands around the bottom of the chairs and/or use hand weights to exercise right at their desks.
“I also encourage employees to schedule break times right into their calendar just as they would do for any other meeting,” Cooper said. “Just a little pop-up reminder to get up out of their chairs and stretch or take a quick walk.”
The payoff will help with both improved productivity at work and the ability to have more fun at home during leisure activities such as golfing, gardening or playing with kids or grandkids.Here are more common measures that can increase movement at work:
- Use a headset. A hands-free set will let you walk around your work space as you talk.
- Walk to co-workers’ desks. Deliver messages in person instead of emailing or calling.
- Wear a pedometer. Set daily step goals to challenge yourself.
- Lunchtime walk. Chat with your friends or co-workers during a 20-minute walk rather than sitting throughout your lunch break.
- Use a standup desk. Offices around the country are purchasing standup workstations for their employees. Standing desks for reading also can be created by stacking office supplies -- such as books or a foot stool -- on a table. Slow-moving treadmill desks allow users to walk and work at the same time.
- Skip the elevator, and while you’re at it, park a little farther from the office. Set a goal of taking the stairs when you only need to go one or two flights up or down. Maybe you’ll want to do more.