Bit by Bit, A More Fit Workplace

By Rene Lynch
Los Angeles Times.

Nearly all of us need to make more time for fitness. Finding that time, though, can seem impossible.

But what if you could wedge that workout in at work? If it sounds far-fetched (or a great way to get yourself fired), listen up.

Dr. James Levine, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic, says Americans don’t need to log more time at a gym. Instead, they need to banish their sedentary ways by incorporating easy bursts of activity from dawn to dusk.

He calls it NEAT fitness, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. In layman’s terms, it means cranking up the body’s calorie-burning abilities by weaving in near-constant movement, such as standing, walking, even pacing, at every opportunity.

Becoming a body in motion that stays in motion could help you burn 500 or more extra calories a day. Combine that with smart food choices, and we could be well on our way to reversing the nation’s ever-expanding waistline.

And Levine said he believes the best place to start is in the workplace.

If you’re rolling your eyes, you might be guilty of what Levine calls “1930s thinking, to see employees (and the workplace) as merely tools of productivity.” But “the really cool companies” Google, Yahoo, Apple, “take the health and the happiness of their employees seriously,” Levine said.

It’s not just for altruistic reasons, of course. It’s easier to keep health costs in line when employees are healthier, and a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, he said. “A healthy workplace is the way of the future.”

Such a future might resemble the San Clemente, Calif., headquarters of Stance, an upscale sock company that tailors its line to Southern California’s snow, skate and surf culture.

Chief Executive Jeff Kearl says the 4-year-old company has spent more than $100,000 on employee perks such as a basketball court, a skateboard half-pipe, game tables and showers. A chef prepares healthful breakfasts and lunches. (On a recent Friday, employees rolled in to an array of freshly blended juices and homemade yogurt. Lunch revolved around a crunchy kale salad.) A gym, personal trainers and classes are coming shortly.

And it’s not unusual for employees to clear out and head for the beach (just up the street) when the waves are just right.

“It may be hard for people to believe, but we have zero abuse,” said Kearl, whose office runs by a “freedom and accountability” philosophy that loosely translates as: Just get your work done, OK?

Not every company is run like Kearl’s or will hire the likes of a Levine to revamp their culture and facilities to make health and fitness a priority. So we asked Levine to help us come up with some ideas to try now. For free.

We realize all these ideas won’t work for you.

But maybe a third of them will. And that would help you meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendation that adults get at least 150 minutes a week of “moderate-intensity exercise”, the equivalent of walking at a pace of 20 minutes per mile.

Is it time for a standing desk?
To be honest, there is debate about whether a standing desk, in and of itself, can help reverse a sedentary lifestyle. But experts say it’s a step in the right direction.

At the very least, a standing desk can serve as a constant reminder to weave more activity into our everyday lives, said Dr. James Levine, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic who encourages businesses to embrace healthier workplaces.

Before you spend a penny, why not just find an empty box or milk crate and turn it upside down? Look for opportunities to use it as a perch to review notes, talk on the phone, sort mail, etc. Sit only when you need to focus on your computer screen. This experiment will help spark your own creative solutions to a more healthful workstation and help you decide whether one of the following might suit your needs:

1. Got a treadmill acting like a clothes hanger in your spare bedroom? Then you could be halfway to a walking desk. Yes, a walking desk, a desk that wraps around a treadmill, is the hot new corner office accessory. One model on the market is the TrekDesk, an adjustable-height U-shaped desk that curves across the front of your treadmill, leaving space for a laptop, an inbox, a phone and more. Yes, there are cup holders. Stroll along at a gentle pace, up to 2 miles an hour, while working. Or stand still when you need to focus. Price: $479.

2. In all likelihood, you’ll want a workstation that allows you to stand and sit. UpLift has an extensive line of desks in a variety of sizes, prices and designs that come with a motor that will allow you to easily switch back and forth. One we like is the UpLift 900, priced at $769.

3. Money is no object? Check out the Elliptical Machine Office Desk at Hammacher Schlemmer. It’s, gulp, $8,000. It’s spacious enough to include an area for just standing. Granted, this is probably more than you want to spend. But it could inspire you to supplement your home office with a piece of exercise equipment.

4. There’s always a DIY approach: If you’ve got the space, you could use a small coffee table or stool perched atop your existing work area. Or grab a reclaimed cabinet or armoire and set it alongside a traditional desk to give you the best of both worlds. Or just stick with your milk crate! (Just remember that if you are in earthquake country, you want to make sure your setup is secure.)

Do you have a standing desk? Care to share your experiences (and maybe even a picture?) Tweet me @renelynch and use the hashtag #LATFit.

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