Sitting at a desk for prolonged periods is one of the worst things we can do to our bodies. Studies show that it’s causing as many deaths as smoking, and is linked to all kinds of health problems, including heart disease, cancer, back pain and obesity1.
It also impacts mental health, as Olympian, Toby Garbett, suggests: “Sitting for long periods of time increases anxiety and depression, as it reduces the levels of feel good hormones serotonin and oxytocin.” 2
Our recent Real Retirement Report revealed just how much of a concern this is for the older workforce. More than half (55%) of over 50s are worried about the impact work has on their health, fearing it may prevent them from prolonging their working lives3. So how can we beat the office blues and stay active at our desks?
Office exercises and health tips for a great day at work
Take a break
Only 30% of UK workers take proper lunch breaks, which is astounding given it’s a legal right and has a multitude of benefits for both employee and employer4. Really, we should all be taking a break every half hour or so. Set a reminder on your phone or computer, and just move. Even if it’s walking over to the photocopier or filling up your mug; getting up from your desk to give your body and mind a short break can make all the difference. Moving about gets your blood flowing, gives you energy and fires up creativity, whilst also reducing stress, improving concentration and productivity.
Exercise to energise
Why not use work as an opportunity to exercise? Take the stairs instead of the escalator, have a meeting or brainstorm while you walk, replace phone calls with face-to-face meetings, and if you have to use the phone – move about while you talk. You can also take advantage of your lunchbreak to do activities you wouldn’t normally have time for: get outside and go for a walk, join a sports club or yoga class, workout at the gym, or simply run some errands. This will help focus your mind and reenergise your body, so you’re able to take on anything back at your desk.
Stretch it out
If you’re super busy, work in a small office, or suffer from aches and pains, try out some simple stretches at your desk. Yes, ‘deskercise’ is now a thing. It’s particularly useful for the older workforce to help prevent ageing and keep the body strong and supple. A good place to start is with a side twist, touching your toes, or the following seated stretches:
- Neck stretch: Face forward and sit tall. Try to touch your right shoulder with your right ear without tensing or hunching the shoulders. Hold, and return head upright. Repeat on the other side.
- Spinal stretch: Sit tall and place your hands on your lower back. Push your hips forward and your shoulders back to arch your spine as you look up. Hold, and then relax.
- Arm stretch: Reach your arms up towards the ceiling. Bring your left wrist back to touch your left shoulder, and touch the elbow with your right hand, above your head. Hold, and repeat on the other side.
Hydration is the best medication
Many of us fall into the trap of relying on countless cups of coffee to get us through our workload - over 70 million cups a day, to be precise5. Although coffee has been linked to reducing the risk of heart attack, liver disease, depression and dementia, it can also dehydrate us and become a replacement for water in the office. Health experts recommend drinking no more than 400mg of caffeine a day (4 cups) and switching up sugary energy drinks with teas and water6. Keeping hydrated promotes cardiovascular health, helps muscle and joints work better, keeps skin supple, and cleanses the body inside and out. Not only that, but it also “keeps your memory sharp, your mood stable and your motivation intact,” according to medical research7.
Find your seated sweet spot
Sitting at a computer all day with bad posture can seriously damage your body in the long-term. There are certain small changes you can make to ensure you are sitting correctly:
- Adjust your chair so that knees are slightly lower than hips to support your back.
- Rest your feet flat on the floor and avoid crossing your legs to strengthen posture. Use a footrest, if necessary.
- Keep your mouse as close as possible to your body to prevent repetitive strain injuries. Rest arms by your sides with elbows bent and forearms parallel to the floor to create an L-shape.
- Place your screen at eye level about an arm’s length away to avoid eye and neck strain. Your screen should be as glare-free as possible, so adjust positioning to avoid reflections8.
Following these recommendations will enhance productivity, reduce stress and prevent the onset of disease. In conjunction with a healthy work diet, this can have a huge impact on overall wellbeing and is especially important for the older workforce. Lindsey Rix, Managing Director of Savings and Retirement at Aviva, reiterates the importance of this:
Although it’s hard to predict what the future might bring, having access to health and wellbeing support via the workplace can help minimise the impact health problems have on people’s ability to work.
So take a break, grab a cuppa and get outside for a walk. Give your body some love, you deserve it.
The Real Retirement Report is designed and produced by Aviva in consultation with ICM Research and Instinctif Partners. The Real Retirement tracking series has been running since 2010 and totals 29,568 interviews among the population over the age of 55 years, including 1,177 in July 2017 for the latest wave of tracking data (Q2 2017). This edition examines data from 3,327 UK adults aged 50 and over, of whom 1,829 are still working.