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Opinion: What a difference a desk can make

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Recently, an employee at Guaranty Bank requested a stand-up desk. This simple ask propelled the organization to look deeper at what could be done to promote increased movement at work. When it comes down to it, employee health and wellness is a benefit for all parties involved, starting with what employees do most – work.

Studies have shown that prolonged sitting takes its toll on employee health and can have undesirable physical and emotional consequences. Increasingly, studies are showing that people who sit for more than eight or nine hours daily – which for many of us describes a typical workday – are at an increased risk of developing serious illnesses, such as cancer, depression, obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, compared with people who move more often.

In addition to their recommendation for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, the American Heart Association encourages us to “sit less, move more.” But being sedentary is not just a lack of exercise.

Sedentary behaviors include “sitting, reclining or laying down while awake, as well as reading, watching television or working on the computer,” according to an August 2016 scientific statement by the American Heart Association that reviewed heart disease risks. The AHA goes on to say, “Even physically active people who spend a lot of their time being sedentary appear to have increased risk.”

The impact of movement – even leisurely movement – can go a long way toward improving the health of employees. Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute and other institutions decided to test several methods of increasing movement among those that worked in offices. Overall, participants in their study reported that they felt “much more energetic throughout the day” if they had been active during the six-hour session, compared with six hours being sedentary.

They also reported “greater happiness, less fatigue and considerably less craving for food” than on days when they were less active, according to a report on the study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in November 2016.

These results suggest that “even a little bit of activity, spread throughout the day, is a practical, easy way to improve well-being,” said Jack Groppel, a study author and founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute.

So what can organizations do to help their employees? The solution seems to be less sitting and more moving overall throughout the day.

Standing up and walking around for five minutes every hour during the workday could lift their mood, combat lethargy without reducing focus and attention, and even dull hunger pangs. Here are some tips on how to incorporate movement into the workday:

• Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

• Park in a parking spot farther away from the entrance.

• Hold “walking meetings” instead of gathering in a conference room.

• Sit on an exercise ball at your desk.

• Talk to colleagues in person rather than sending emails.

• Walk to a bathroom farther away.

• Stand up periodically.

• Try small stretches or exercises like knee extensions.

• Utilize standing desks if you work at a desk for long periods of time (or improvise with a high table or counter).

During the past year, Guaranty Bank utilized its wellness committee and a lunch-and-learn format to encourage its employees to incorporate more movement into their daily lives.

Additionally, it furnished its newest banking center in Farmers Park with adjustable desks to make standing an option for nearly 60 employees. From this point forward, all new and remodeled locations will utilize standing desks as a benefit for employees.

Whether it’s stretching periodically in your office space or walking to a co-worker’s desk rather than sending an email, small actions can make a difference. Start today by devoting five minutes every hour to physical activity, whether you walk up and down a staircase, along a corridor or just pace around your office.

Your body will thank you.

Allison Kimes is Guaranty Bank’s talent acquisition and management specialist. She can be reached at akimes@gbankmo.com.

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