Beyond the Standup Desk: New Frontiers in Office Wellness

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Beyond the Standup Desk: New Frontiers in Office Wellness

Take it from Under Armour senior exercise scientist Jeff Knight: “If you run 8 miles every morning, and then spend 8 hours sitting on your butt, it’s almost like you didn’t run at all — it’s completely negated.”

For those of us who spend our days at a sedentary job, this is a wake-up call. Sure, we might’ve considered a standup desk, and we may have even tried sitting on one of those rubber balls instead of a chair. But today’s cutting-edge workplaces are finding better, easier ways to make sure your work doesn’t literally kill you.

Here are a few things to look for, and a few ways you can encourage your office to be a little healthier:

1. A FLEXIBLE WORK-FROM-HOME POLICY

As you know by now, the only way you’ll get fit is to find something you actually enjoy doing. So rather than adopting one-size-fits-all fitness approaches (like on-site yoga classes or gym memberships), more workplaces are giving you the flexibility to, say, come in late so you can attend that 10am yoga class. And besides, who wants to do downward dog next to their boss?

2. HEALTHY CATERED LUNCHES

While it’s easy to be cynical — catered lunches tend to keep you close to your desk — it’s hard to deny the upshot of the free salads and sandwiches many employers offer. (Not spending $12 on salad every day can reduce financial stress as well.) Some workplaces even grow their own fruits and veggies in on-site gardens. “It’s a great way to stress health and show that it doesn’t have to be expensive to be healthy,” says Alan Kohll, founder and president of the health and wellness service provider TotalWellness. “You can talk about the health benefits of different fruits and vegetables and have recipes for how to use them throughout the season.”

3. EXTRA CREDIT FOR BIKING TO WORK

It’s bad enough to sit for eight-plus hours at your desk. But, for some, that’s on top of another hour or more spent sitting during a commute. That’s why some companies are going out of their way to encourage biking to work. The first step is reducing the obstacles around that commute. Worried your bike will get stolen? Here’s an in-office bike rack. Don’t want to start your day sweaty and hot? At Under Armour’s Austin and San Francisco offices, there are in-office showers. Some companies even offer a $100 per month credit if you commute without a car.


READ MORE > RESEARCH SHOWS THE HEALTHIEST WAY INTO WORK IS BY BIKE


4. UPDATING THE OFFICE GYM

Not too long ago, the trendiest perk was a state-of-the-art office gym. “When I worked for AOL 20 years ago, you saw this very nice fitness center.” Kohll says. “But it looked like no one had ever used it.” Rather than throw good money after bad, modern employers are embracing the trend toward non-traditional gyms. Out with the weight machines, in with yoga mats and dumbbells, which can be used just about anywhere (and tend to last awhile). Some employers also give their charges 30 minutes of workout time every day. “That doesn’t mean they have to go to the gym,” Kohll says. “They can walk around the office or go on a bike ride. It doesn’t have to be hardcore physical activity.”

5. THE NEW HAPPY HOUR: VOLUNTEERING

While volunteer days require a bit more coordination than a trip to the local watering hole, more workplaces are using them as the go-to team-building activity. And for obvious reasons: Everyone can participate, and it establishes a bit of goodwill between your company and the community. (Oh, and you can typically end your day a little early and go out for a late lunch or early dinner.) That said, if your office needs to celebrate or blow off steam, there’s nothing wrong with going out for some beers, just remember to drink in moderation.

6. GOT A MEETING? TAKE IT OUTSIDE

Email and Slack are amazing tools, but sometimes only an in-person conversation will do. There’s no reason you should have to meet in a cramped office, staring off at a picture of your co-worker’s kids. “My boss, when we have a one-on-one, we’re walking,” Knight says. “Walking meetings are a fantastic way to get people moving. If you get the blood pumping, you get the junk moving out and the good stuff moving in.” In today’s workplace, you can even do this while you’re on a call. Just jump on your cellphone (or, if you have an office, put the phone on speaker) and walk as you talk. Even this tiny bit of movement is better than more sitting.


READ MORE > A NEW TREND IN WALKING MEETINGS (THANKS, AUSTRALIA)


7. LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN.

As with anything else, top-down fitness initiatives are only as good as their buy-in. The best way to earn that is simple: Ask employees what they want. Some teams are hypercompetitive and will love your group tennis lesson idea. Other teams would rather do something more meditative, like yoga. The only way to find out is to ask. What you learn may surprise you: Maybe your bookish team of editors has secretly been longing to do box jumps in the break room. Maybe not. But there’s only one way to find out.

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  • Charlotte

    That’s all fine if you have a boss that’s willing to let you workout. I asked for a ten minute break to go for a walk and was told no.

    • Cecelia Aldridge

      Most companys have some type of written policy that includes time for execise. You may want to check into this. Our supervisors dont always know about these things.

  • Michael Fernandez

    I’m sorry but that’s total bs. If you run 8 miles everyday, it’s not negated by being stationary for 8 hours.

  • CiscoG

    Mr. Underwood, this article sounds great and inspiring but is mostly unrealistic for 95.7% of office (sedentary) workers. Yes, I completely made up that statistic just because many of the “perks” you mentioned in this article sounds totally made up. There is no mention of which companies are offering these accommodations. Where did you get this information? Yes, it’s fairly common for large office buildings to have a small gym but time to use it is on your own time and not your employer’s. I could go on with the other items you mentioned but this reply would get way too long.

    • Marie

      Good point. Our gym is such a long walk away, and then you change, walk all the way out there and you’re not guaranteed a spot in the classes?? I did visit during the day once and it’s just a hassle having to workout and then redo hair and makeup in the middle of the day. That unfortunately takes out midday fitness for me – just not practical. I work out at the end of the day