Experts On Call: How Do I Stay Healthy While Working A Sedentary Job?

Integrative Medicine Doctor By Amy Shah, M.D.
Integrative Medicine Doctor
Dr. Amy Shah is a double board certified MD with training from Cornell, Columbia and Harvard Universities. She was named one of mindbodygreen's Top 100 Women In Wellness to Watch in 2015 and has been a guest on many national and local media shows.
Man working at home

Graphic by mbg Creative x BORIS JOVANOVIC / Stocksy

This year has been one of the most challenging years in modern history, one that has taken a toll on our mental and physical health. To help you through it, we launched Experts On Call, a new series in which top-tier health and well-being experts answer your questions—however big or small—to help you find solutions, put together a game plan, and make each day a little bit easier. Don't forget, you can ask questions anytime, and we'll do our best to find the right expert to point you in the right direction. Without further ado, here's another edition of the series with a question from reader Francesca J.

How can I stay healthy while working from home with a sedentary job?

Francesca J.

As many people continue working from home for the foreseeable future, prioritizing health and movement can be a challenge. People in walkable cities no longer have the commute to and from work to rely on, and many gyms and workout studios remain closed, both of which make the sedentary effects of a desk job seem more prominent.

Though office closures don't seem to be ending anytime soon (and even if they do, a desk job is still a desk job), these seven tips can help you stay healthy under the circumstances:

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1. Walk around.

One of the best ways to make your desk job less sedentary is to frequently get up and walk around. Our legs are the easiest free tool we have to stay active, so use them if you're able.

Whether you're taking the time to go for a mile-long walk outside, moving up and down the stairs, or walking a few laps around your kitchen, those micro-movements throughout the day add up for the better.

2. Spend time in nature.

I choose to wear sneakers during work (but you could also keep them nearby), so when scheduled phone calls or potential breaks arise, the opportunity to take them outside is accessible. When the days turn colder, keep a jacket, scarf, or gloves next to your sneakers so the weather doesn't serve as an excuse to stay indoors.

Aside from a change of pace and movement, spending time in nature has plenty of proven health benefits, including stress reduction and vitamin D absorption.

3. Keep water nearby.

Not only will you stay adequately hydrated (which supports immunity), but drinking water can also inadvertently promote movement in the form of bathroom breaks. While you're up, consider spending a bit of extra time walking around or stretching before returning to your desk.

Certain fruits and veggies, like cucumbers, celery, leafy vegetables, zucchini, melons, and berries, double as both healthy snacks and hydrating foods.

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4. Check in on your mindset, and tune into your body.

When working from home, it can be easy to become distracted. Instead of focusing on the various ways you "should" be eating, moving, working, etc., focus on the big picture, and remember that being healthy is about having a healthy mindset.

Particularly with the recent election, COVID-19, and other stressors, it's easy to become glued to screens (including the one you're working from), which can result in burnout. When possible, take breaks from external stressors and tune into your body's signals.

If it seems too difficult to part with your computer during the workday, try to establish a morning or evening routine dedicated to time away from electronics. It doesn't have to be extravagant—simply sitting with a cup of coffee or tea and allowing your thoughts to pass through you is an effective, restorative form of meditation.

5. Balance your sit-stand time.

When you look at the Blue Zones, good health and longevity are partially attributed to all-day activity. In other words, an hour at the gym won't correct eight hours of sitting. While there's no hard-and-fast rule, standing up every 30 minutes to an hour is recommended. Before sitting back down, spend at least five to eight minutes stretching.

For general stretches, these 14 help counteract the effects of sitting. For more personalized stretches, pinpoint where you hold tension in your body and focus your energy there—for most people this is the neck and shoulders or the jaw.

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6. Don't stress about snacking.

To prevent mindless snacking, keep food in the kitchen and away from your desk. That way, when a craving or a hunger pang does strike, getting up to satisfy those needs becomes a thoughtful event. I also recommend portioning your snack of choice into a reasonably sized bowl to keep from overdoing it.

Setting the goal of not snacking during the day is unreasonable and sets an unhealthy tone of feeling guilt about natural hunger. Instead, savor the snack and trust that you can enjoy it responsibly.

7. Set boundaries.

When there's no distinct end to the workday (i.e., commuting back home), it can be easy to overextend your hours, thereby increasing the amount of time you spend being sedentary. For both mental and physical health, it's important to set boundaries in the evening.

Reach out to co-workers and anyone else you communicate with at work and let them know that you won't be replying to emails past a certain hour. Time away from your phone and computer will also decrease blue-light exposure, promoting better quality sleep. Win-win.

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Amy Shah, M.D.
Amy Shah, M.D.
Dr. Amy Shah is a double board certified MD with training from Cornell, Columbia and Harvard...
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