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This Is the Healthiest Way to Work at Your Desk

Don't let that desk job drag your health down along with it.

In recent years, endless health professionals have sounded the alarm against the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, and with good reason. A recent Gallup poll revealed that half of all surveyed full-time U.S. employees spend 47 hours per week at work. For those of us in offices, that translates to roughly six full eight-hour days stationed at our desks, crammed into the typical Monday to Friday grind.

According to the WHO and a growing body of corroborating research, all of this sitting is having a detrimental effect on our health. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Sitting even has the power to slow our metabolisms, regardless of whether we exercise outside of those extensive office hours. So, if that morning jog was your whole health plan, you might want to reconsider.

It's time that we take control of our health in the workplace, starting with our sitting habits. Many people swear by standing desks, which supposedly combat the health risks associated with sitting. But too much of anything can be bad: according to Harvard researchers, prolonged standing without breaks can lead to musculoskeletal problems, including back pain and swelling in the knees and ankles. Your best bet for a healthier workday? A transitional standing desk. Transitional desks allow users to both sit and stand, making you more inclined to move throughout the day. A transitional desk will also limit the pain you might experience from standing all day.

The first lab study on sit-stand workstations, conducted by University of Waterloo Professor in Kinesiology Dr. Jack P. Callaghan, Ph.D., concluded that the ideal ratio of sitting to standing rests somewhere between 1:1 and 1:3. This means that throughout an eight-hour workday, you should ideally plan on standing for between 30 and 45 minutes per hour, taking into account whether you're beginning to feel any pain in your back or joints.

Luckily, we can still see positive results even if our employers won't spring for new office furniture. Even seemingly minor changes, like drinking more water, can attenuate some of the waist-widening effects of a desk job. According to research published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, a single percentage point increase in a person's daily water consumption reduces their total caloric intake by approximately 257 calories a month, as well as shaving off serious amounts of salt, sugar, and fat from their diet.

And, because it's all too easy to forget, try to remember that your desk is not your prison cell. Whenever you can, find a moment to stand up and walk away from the computer screen. Take time to talk to your co-workers. Get some sunlight. Take a full hour for lunch. These simple changes can make a big difference in the long run. And when you want to break away from that dead-end job, start with the 40 Best Ways to Jumpstart Your Career!

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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