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This workplace mistake can cut years off your life

If you're among the multitude of health care workers who are stuck at a desk all day, stand up for yourself to improve your own health.

This workplace mistake can cut years off your life

If you’re a doctor or nurse, you move around at work—and that’s good. Same goes for other staffers who are visiting patients at bedside, including physical, occupational, speech and recreational therapists, social workers and patient transportation employees.

If you’re lodged at the unit’s central desk or in health care administration, however, you're probably sitting too much.

Most of us sit 9.3 hours daily, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping. Even if we work out daily, we can’t counter the effects of sitting, says James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative and author of  “Get Up!”.  

A long list of studies suggest that sitting could ultimately make you a patient in your own hospital, by increasing risk of heart disease and stroke, diabetes and cancer. A 2012 report in BMJ Open found that sitting for three hours or more each day takes two years off life expectancy. In June, the British Journal of Sports Medicine recommended standing at least two hours daily while you’re on the job.

“Humans are not designed to sit all day long, from a physiological, medical, creative or psychological perspective,” Levine says. “Cut the chains, and get up from your chair.”

Here's how to do it:

Avoid taking shortcuts

“If you sit for long periods of time, make a conscious effort to make life less easy,” says Brooke Stover, wellness program manager at Hutchinson Clinic in Hutchinson, Kan. “Park farther away from the door, choose the restroom that's on a different floor, go talk to someone instead of sending them an email, or hand-deliver documents instead of using interoffice mail.”

Be resourceful and if you’re permitted to, go cheer up a patient.

When using the phone, wear your headset and walk around, or even just march in place. Skip the elevator, and imagine you’re ticking off floors on your gym’s stair climber.

Suggest new workplace practices

Innovations might include hourly calendar and screensaver reminders to stand up and stretch, and "fit kits" placed at nurses’ stations that include stretch bands, hand weights and cards with movement ideas, says Kara Van de Grift, M.S.W., M.S.P.H., at Prevention Partners in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

But if you don't think you can change the system top down, do it bottom up: Suggest walking meetings and conference calls. Round up colleagues for a lunchtime hike around office grounds, and don’t forget to bring walking shoes and a pedometer. “I take walks with a coworker daily, sometimes as far as two miles, says Elizabeth Scala, who works in nursing administration in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Most nurses think they walk more than they do, but they do stay in the same circular pattern,” says Diane Olmos, supervisor of employee health and wellness at U.N.C. Health Care. “When we measured, it wasn’t as high as anybody had expected.” Her department also hosts an annual one-week walking challenge, and has developed a map with directions for indoor hospital walking routes.

Work in a workout

If you can get out to go to the gym at lunch or go for a quick run, do it.

No can do? While lunch heats up in the microwave, do calf raises or squats when no one’s looking. When you're stuck at the desk, sit up nice and straight and practice ankle rotations and arm and neck rolls. Even fidgeting is better for you than sitting completely still.

Get the right stuff

Standing up can burn up to 42 extra calories per hour—not a lot, but every little bit helps. Ask about a standing desk or a treadmill desk, or devise your own. Put your computer on a box or stack of thick books, then add a stool higher than your chair. Try a wobble board, for agility, balance, coordination and enhanced ankle motion or for more challenge, get an Indo Board.

Circumvent expensive designer ergonomic chairs with alternative options. A type of motion seating, the Swopper chair features vertical bounce with 3D ergonomics. The ErgoChair has an eggball shape for perching on top. Or you could just sit on an exercise ball.

That way, you can turn sitting into its own form of exercise.

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