Being Active Begins in the Office

More and more, workplaces are encouraging physical activity. Here's how to help promote wellness in the office.

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By Lisa Evans

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Want to be more active? Start with your work environment. More and more, researchers are turning their attention to the workplace as a significant source of chronic illnesses including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The primary culprit contributing to these diseases? Your desk chair.

Our sedentary working environment has led to what researchers have dubbed "sitting disease." While investing in wellness programs can certainly help to offset the negative consequences of sitting disease, a 2010 report from the University of Queensland, Australia, showed even when adults met the recommended physical activity guidelines, sitting for prolonged periods could still compromise health. The key to combatting sitting disease, they argue, is to build periods of physical activity into daily office life.

Hakee Chang and Lisa Weeks of Perkins + Will, a global architectural firm that specializes in designing active workspaces, say they've seen a significant increase in companies concerned about employee health seek design help to combat sitting disease. They suggest the following improvements to workplace infrastructure to promote physical movement at work:

Make staircases attractive.

If your office has a staircase, making it attractive as an elevator alternative is a great way to encourage activity. Ensure staircases are well lit, safe and aesthetically appealing.

Centralize printers and copiers.

Spreading office machinery around the office makes it convenient for people to simply swivel their chair around to grab a printed document. Locating equipment in a central place away from individuals' work areas creates an opportunity for movement in the middle of the day and encourages a much needed standing break.

Related: Improve Your Office's Productivity by Boosting Employees' Sleep Quality

Install multiple collaboration spaces.

The days of employees working at one assigned desk are over. More and more, companies are noting the collaboration, creativity and health benefits of communal working lounges that encourage employees to move around the office – while promoting a friendly atmosphere, as well. Advances in technology have made it possible for people to take their work wherever they go.

"It's kind of ironic that technology has brought us to sitting all the time, but if we're smart, it can free us to move around," says Weeks. Centrally-located stand-up laptop bars are a great way to encourage employees to get up without missing a beat.

Provide a variety of workspaces.

Furniture options have spread beyond the traditional office desk and task chair. From exercise balls to standing desks and treadmill desks, there are now more options than ever for employees to switch body positions throughout the day and gain control over their work environment.

Have a dog-friendly office.

Encouraging employees to bring their pets to work has many health benefits, including decreased stress levels, improved mood, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Most of all, a dog-friendly office optimizes opportunities for exercise, giving pet owners an excuse to get out of the office and take Fido for a walk.

Encourage standing or walking meetings.

Replace the boardroom table with standing desks, or encourage employees to get outdoors and have walking meetings by incorporating green spaces and patios around your office's exterior. Standing or walking during a meeting not only provides an opportunity to get in some physical activity, but may make your meeting more productive. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., reported that groups collaborating on a project while standing were more engaged and less territorial than they were while seated.

Related: Why Your Workplace Wellness Program Is Unhealthy

Lisa Evans

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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