“We’ve had massive changes in the [workplace] environment, and in this case, it’s a loss of physically active jobs,” said lead author Tim Church, an exercise researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
Church and his colleagues found that the number of people in jobs requiring moderate physical activity decreased from 48 percent in 1960 to 20 percent in 2008. The researchers also found a match between the drop in calories burned and increase in average weight during the past five decades.
A few creative types have come up with ideas to increase workplace activity. For example, endocrinologist James Levine of the Mayo Clinic has promoted the tread
mill desk, which lets you walk slowly as you work at an attached desktop; factory-made models cost $2,000 and up. There are under-desk step machines such as the $195 Gamercize PC-Sport; if you stop pedaling, your mouse or keyboard stop working. To add upper-body exercises, there’s the $599 GymyGym, an office chair equipped with built-in resistance bands.
But you don’t have to spend that much money to get a workout. Fitness experts are also promoting low-cost — if occasionally funny-looking — options for improving your fitness during office hours. Some of our Washington Post colleagues tried them out, as you can see on this page.
Toni Yancey, a researcher at the UCLA School of Public Health, has developed and written a book about a 10-minute exercise routine called “Instant Recess.” It includes both strength training and aerobic exercises that can be done within the boundaries of a cubicle — moves such as tricep kicks, knee lifts and hamstring curls.
“They’re simple movements that can be done by everyone, even people with extra weight and disabilities,” said Yancey, who added that the concept has been adopted by hundreds of offices, schools and other organizations.
Many of the moves involve the lower body, which has large muscle groups that can burn more calories than the upper body, Yancey said. Ideally, she said, people should do the exercises twice a day — once in the mid-morning and once in the afternoon — to break up long periods of sitting.
The program has an enthusiastic following among a group of employees at the Los Angeles County Health Department who have been doing it for more than five years. Some workers have commented that the routine wakes them up better than a cup of coffee, said Cynthia Harding, the department’s director of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health. Many workers are paying better attention to their health, she added.