Sitting at a desk for most of your working day?

Health Science
Bruce Wardrop is a sports scientist in the Department of Health Sport & Exercise Science

Bruce Wardrop is a sports scientist in the Department of Health Sport & Exercise Science

Well, making time for exercise needn’t be as complicated as you think. The Journal’s Catherine Healy asked some top fitness experts, including WIT’s sports physiologist Bruce Wardrop, to give us advice on staying active – without breaking into too much of

Well, making time for exercise needn’t be as complicated as you think. The Journal’s Catherine Healy asked some top fitness experts, including WIT’s sports physiologist Bruce Wardrop, to give us advice on staying active – without breaking into too much of a sweat.

For the majority of office workers, there is little you can realistically do during the day that is going to make you fit. That's probably not what people are expecting to hear, but let's be honest with ourselves; if you want to get fit you will need to dedicate time to a structured training program outside of work. 

Office work is inherently sedentary and sitting at a desk for hours on end can have negative health consequences, even for those who exercise frequently. So, while you are unlikely to get fit at your desk, there are certainly steps that you can take to make your working day less unhealthy!

The first thing everyone should address is the ergonomics of your workspace. If you spend hours at your desk, you should be comfortable and have everything set up to keep you injury free. Simple things like adjusting the position of your chair, monitor and keyboard will allow you to sit upright and maintain better posture, which in turn can help prevent / minimise back pain. Here is a straightforward guide to setting up an ergonomic workspace (here are plenty more available if you search). It is important to note that maintaining good posture at your desk is an active process and may be a little tiring. You will need to make an effort and concentrate on what you are doing at first, but it will be worth the effort!

Next, you should look to reduce your sitting time during the day. Aim to stand up for 1-2mins every 30mins. Set a timer on your phone to remind you and just stand up - its that easy! This simple step can go someway to minimising the negative effects of sitting for long periods of time. Other tips to reduce sitting time include standing up to take phone calls or standing during long meetings - you can still pay attention and participate when you are standing! 

Now that you have an ergonomic workspace and reduced your sitting time, it would make sense to increase your movement time during the day. Obvious examples include taking the stairs instead of the lift or going to speak to a colleague face to face instead of phoning / emailing them. If you work a few floors up, take the lift part of the way and use the stairs for the remainder, aiming to eventually take the stairs all the way. Use your imagination and find ways to accumulate extra movement time during the day - it all adds up! For the brave, there are also desk-based workouts you could try. These incorporate simple exercises that you can do at your desk throughout the day - the Irish Heart Foundation has a few routines you can try out. 

Many office workers should also have the opportunity to get out of the office at lunch time and go for a walk. This is a great way to break up the day and get some fresh air, energising you ahead of the afternoon. You can accumulate over an hour of walking per week if you do 15mins per day. Just go out the door and walk for 7.5mins, turn around and come back - it can be that simple! 

All of these suggestions are easier if you have your colleagues join in with you. You can spice things up by setting challenges between co workers, to see who can incorporate the most activity into their day. A really simple example would be a pedometer (step counter) challenge. These days, most phones have a built-in pedometer that will record your steps during the day (or they can be bought for less than €10). Guidelines suggest that we should all be hitting 10,000 steps per day. However, this can be tricky to achieve if you spend the bulk of your day at your desk. By reducing your sitting time and maximising your movement time, you can significantly increase your daily step count and keeping score yourself or between colleagues is a great motivational tool, which can help you achieve more.

Get up

Stand up, walk around – and repeat every half an hour. That’s what Bruce Wardrop, a sports scientist in the Department of Health Sport & Exercise Science at WIT, says we should all be aiming for.

Every small movement counts, whether it’s getting up from your seat for long meetings and phone calls, or even just walking over to a colleague’s desk to speak to them.

You should be standing up for between two to three minutes every 30 minutes during the day. Set the timer on your phone to remind yourself.

It mightn’t seem like a big deal, but you can burn up to 50% more calories than sitting when you stand up.

Work out at your desk

Exercise while sitting is a surprisingly effortless way to incorporate exercise into your day.

Raise one leg at a time as high as you can and let go after three seconds.

If it’s your bum you want to work on, clench your cheeks as tightly as you can for three counts before relaxing.

For your upper back muscles, lift your arms up and interlace your fingers behind your neck, pulling your shoulder blades together.

These ones are subtle enough not to be noticed in a busy office.

Exercise while you commute

A trap people often fall into is that they plan to exercise after work, but find themselves too tired to work out once they get home, according to DCU lecturer Dr Giles Warrington, who is head sports physiologist with the Olympic Council of Ireland.

Working exercise into your daily commute is one way to avoid this pitfall, he says.

If you’re not in a position to run or cycle to work, you can always just get off the train or bus a stop earlier and walk the rest of the distance to your office.

Those extra few minutes of effortless exercise can eventually build up to your recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day.

Start an exercise group

By applying that extra bit of peer pressure, work clubs or groups can be among the most effective ways to get into a regular exercise routine, exercise physiologist Dr John Bradley says.

Organise a weekly run or swim – or have meetings on the go during a daily office walk.

Related Courses

Master of Science in  Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Public Health & Health Promotion
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Health Sciences (Common Entry)

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