Subtle alterations to the physical workplace can deliver incremental health benefits.
We all know that the sedentary lifestyle encouraged by traditional desk jobs is unhealthy. Recent research indicates that sitting for long periods of time is associated with higher risks for diabetes, obesity, liver disease, heart attack and stroke. What's worse, it appears that exercising after you leave the office doesn't completely undo these ill effects.
What's a health-conscious organization to do? Actually, it doesn't take much to encourage employees to get up and move around during their workday. By altering the physical workplace even in subtle ways, you can improve the overall health of workers--and boost productivity while you're at it. Here are few ideas to consider:
Lap It Up
Indoor walking tracks are gaining popularity in no small part because they are all but cost-free. We're not talking about an Olympic oval; rather, these "tracks" consist of a circular route of hallways with signage indicating directions and distance. The University of Rochester Medical Center (in New York) has indoor walking routes marked by maps hung along the corridors; employees can measure their progress as they walk the circuit. The effect can be noticeable: A study of people who sit for many hours found that those who took frequent small breaks were able to better metabolize fat and sugar than those who sat for long, uninterrupted periods.
Take a Stand
Another no- or low-cost way to get folks on their feet is to encourage "stand-ups": brief status-update meetings held around a counter-height table. A 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal reported that "stand-up meetings are part of a fast-moving tech culture in which sitting has become synonymous with sloth." But you don't have to be in the technology business to employ the practice. Because people don't settle in for the long haul, stand-up meetings tend to be shorter and more efficient. For one-on-one consultations that don't require note taking, suggest a walking meeting, either indoors or outside.
With many companies issuing laptops, cell phones and other mobile devices, employees needn't be tied to their desks to work or even make phone calls. Adobe and Pixar offer employees the option of sitting or standing workstations. But even by placing tall, cafe-style tables throughout the workspace, you can encourage employees to continue working while moving about. Modern office supply companies such as Steelcase and Herman Miller feature a variety of standing-height and adjustable-height conference tables.
Rethink the Chair
Health company Humana has installed treadmill workstations (Steelcase's Walkstation is one example) throughout its offices for common use. If resources permit, you might also honor requests for standing desks or alternatives to traditional chairs, such as yoga balls, which develop core strengthening and balance.
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