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a different perspective on human capital

Staying Healthy When You Work a Desk Job

Treehouse Yoga

In 2016, I started my first office job as a Customer Service Representative for a shipping company and gained about fifteen pounds in the first six months. I knew exactly why–I’d waited tables for ten years previously, and the transition from a job where I was constantly on my feet to a position where I sat at a desk for eight hours a day meant I was burning significantly fewer calories (not to mention the Friday donuts, potlucks, and bake sales that were a constant temptation in my office). I knew I needed to make some adjustments to my sedentary lifestyle, but I hate going to the gym…and I really love Ben & Jerry’s. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the last few years of working a desk job.

You have to exercise. Seriously. It doesn’t have to be at the gym, but if you’re not getting in some type of physical activity every day, your health will deteriorate. Health professionals recommend adults take at least 10,000 steps per day and incorporate 120 minutes (three hours) of moderate aerobic activity per week. Americans, however, average between 5,000 and 7,000 steps per day, and only about 23% of us actually squeeze in three hours of aerobic activity every week–not surprising when we consider the huge population that spends the day in an office chair. A few months after starting my first office job, I joined a gym and went fairly regularly in the beginning, but like many others, I fell off the wagon after a few months. 

After canceling my gym membership, I started going for an hour-long walk every night after work–and running two or three days per week. Walking and running outside, free from the fluorescent lights and stifling, sweat-scented confines of the gym, is something I’ve kept up with and look forward to every night. It’s a chance to breathe fresh air, feel the sun on my skin, and catch up on the latest My Favorite Murder podcast. If you’re already a gym rat, so much the better, but it’s important to keep in mind that exercise can happen almost anywhere–many communities offer free or cheap exercise classes like yoga in the park, pilates at breweries, or kickboxing classes at the community center.

Watch what you eat. Offices are prime settings for junk food–team members bring in donuts, share candy, and load up their coffees with sugar-heavy creamer. My old office held monthly charity bake sales, which were a huge hit with everyone in the office, but didn’t help our waistlines! Meal prepping is a great way to save time and money and avoid the temptation of a lunchtime trip to McDonald’s. You work lunches don’t have to be boring; there are millions of fantastic options online for mason jar salads (check out 18 killer recipes from Buzzfeed here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/carolynkylstra/mason-jar-salads), work-friendly stuffed veggies, and more. If you’re a snacker, plan ahead and bring in some carrot sticks and hummus to munch at your desk, rather than a bag of potato chips from the vending machine. Beverages can be a detriment to your health goals as well. Many of us rely on coffee to get going in the morning, and most people aren’t on board with drinking it totally black. Try using stevia or other natural sweeteners in place of the Sweet ‘N’ Low, and experiment with the wide variety of non-dairy creamers that have hit shelves in the last few years.   

Of course, there will be days when you’ll forget to bring lunch, or a colleague will invite you out for a quick meal during your break. If your office is in an urban area, there’s a great chance that you can find a healthier alternative to the drive-thru or Applebee’s within a mile or two of your office. Many grocery stores offer build-your-own salad bars and grab-and-go takeout options, which are perfect if you’re crunched for time. If you’re looking for a sit-down meal, seek out diet-friendly cuisines like Mediterranean or Japanese. Eating a greasy, carb-heavy lunch leaves many of us feeling bloated and sluggish when we return for the second half of our workdays, so do yourself a favor find something healthy!

Take advantage of health and fitness programs offered by your place of business. My office job had one of the best health care programs I’ve ever seen, both in terms of coverage and incentive programs. My organization regularly partnered with local gyms and fitness centers to offer a free fitness class once per week. Attending these events was a blast, and a wonderful chance to get to know my colleagues outside of the office. Not every business is so invested in their employees’ health, but if you’re interested in health workshops or a gym membership through work, it’s worth a conversation with your office manager. Even if your office isn’t able to offer anything, you might find coworkers who are up for trying out a krav maga class or going for a thirty minute bike ride at lunch.

At Treehouse Partners, we encourage all of our employees to take care of themselves, both mentally and physically. We recently brought in a yoga teacher for a pre-work yoga class, and many of us delight in exercising on our own time. Our CEO, Kate Pletcher, works out every morning and tries to book her lunch meetings close to our office so that she can bike or scooter to meet clients. Think of your health as an investment: exercising for just thirty minutes a day drastically reduces your chances of myriad health issues, and healthy eating can make a huge difference in your psychological and physical well-being. Working at a desk job doesn’t need to be a detriment to your health if you’re able to figure out a diet and exercise system that works for you!

  • Sarah O’Phelan, Recruiting & Social Media Coordinator for Treehouse Partners.