So many of us worker bees spend our weekdays glued to our desk chairs, wondering, perhaps, if tapping at our keyboards counts as exercise. (Sadly, it doesn’t.)
But the prospect of spending a huge chunk of our day working out may seem daunting and frankly, unworkable. A new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity indicates that, in fact, spending just five minutes getting up and engaging in moderately intense exercise (like a walk) every hour may actually be better for us, in many respects, than a solid 30-minute daily workout before we slide into our cubicles in the morning and start our long sit.
The study, conducted by researchers affiliated with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, among others, concluded that introducing short periods of activity spread throughout the day would help not only boost workers’ energy levels, but also elevate their moods and lower their sense of fatigue and appetite, calling it “a promising approach to improve overall well-being at work.”
Moving throughout the day can burn calories and elevate levels of an enzyme — lipoprotein lipase – that aids in the conversion of fat to fuel, explains Pete McCall, senior personal training expert at the fitness certification and education non-profit American Council on Exercise. “Sitting for long periods reduces levels of the enzyme and it is easier for fat to be stored rather than used,” he notes.
Exercise can also boost blood flow, including blood to our brains, and the levels of dopamine and serotonin, which can elevate our moods.
While longer periods of exercise are beneficial, McCall says, even those who exercise regularly may suffer health consequences from long periods of inactivity, like sitting behind a desk for hours on end.
“It is still important for individuals to exercise regularly but adding more activity, even five minutes an hour of moving around an office, can help improve health-related markers,” he says, adding that this approach is not only a good supplement for those who already exercise, but also a “great starting point” for those who are not getting enough exercise in general.
“It’s a lot easier for someone to add five minutes of activity to an hour than it might be to set aside 30 to 45 minutes for specific exercise,” McCall observes.
But how can you make sure that you get exercise during your workday, even while working diligently to get that report in on time and keep your boss at bay? McCall offered some tips:
1. It’s all in the timing: “Use an activity tracker with a reminder function or a timer on a smart phone. Set it to go off once an hour and then take a ‘stand-up’ break to move around for a few minutes.”
2. Phone it in: “Get a phone headset and stand up when making phone calls.”
3. Stand up for yourself: “If possible, get a standing desk. Working while standing can help you be more alert and think more clearly.”
4. Take the stairs: “Use the stairs instead of the elevators. Some buildings are making stair access easier. If you constantly go between floors for your job, this can add up to significant calories [burned].”
5. Good parking karma: If you drive to work, “park far from the office and walk the entire parking lot.”
6. Hoof it: “If you commute via public transit, when the weather is nice get off a stop early or late and walk the extra distance home.”
Start tomorrow – or even right now. It all adds up!
Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.