The Healthy Workplace: 6 Ways to Move More Each Day

What do stairs, coffee and trash cans have in common?

New standing desks were recently introduced at my co-working space, Brooklyn Creative League. (photo Dave Pappas)

New standing desks were recently introduced at my co-working space, Brooklyn Creative League. (photo Dave Pappas)

My co-working space just added some standing desks and boy am I an even happier camper.

Quite a few of my fellow members with full-time spaces had already integrated standing workstations in their offices.

I knew the desks were growing in popularity, having interviewed numerous workplace managers and designers who were specifying sit-to-stand desks exclusively in some spaces.

Though standing desks are not a new concept—they were used by Leonardo daVinci and other historic figures – their growth has taken off in recent years, beginning around 2011 with tech and startup companies and now hitting mainstream companies. However, it is still a new enough category that industry association BIFMA does not break out standing desk sales separately yet.

However, Businessweek reported that standing desk sales were growing at three and four times the rate of sitting desks for some manufacturers. Knoll attributes its first quarter growth to new products including its height-adjustable tables.

As an occasional user of ersatz standing desks, I knew they had merit. On a typical day in my home office, I get a bit antsy after sitting at the computer all day, so by afternoon, I often move downstairs and stand at my kitchen counter. Other days I might set up an adjustable-height folding table outside my office.

So, it was serendipitous when, as part of an office expansion, Brooklyn Creative League added a couple of rows of standing desks on each floor available to part-time members like me.

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to experience working standing up for brief periods, I’ve come to appreciate the new addition more than I would imagine. And for good reason.

Turns out there are more than just physical benefits to standing part of the day.

We’ve all heard that sitting the new smoking, as Nilofer Merchant wrote in Harvard Business Review

Turns out, it’s not so much the sitting all day that’s detrimental, it’s the sedentary worker’s overall lack of activity that has potentially dangerous health consequences.

Research has shown that more frequent, smaller movements throughout the day are more effective than sitting for 6 or 7 hours followed by a vigorous hour at the gym or on a run which James Vlashos described in The New York Times as akin to “trying to counter a pack-a-day smoking habit by jogging.”

According to Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, the impact of movement – however leisurely – can be profound. As he told Smithsonian, “Step one is get up. Step two is learn to get up more often. Step three is, once you’re up, move. And what we’ve discovered is that once you’re up, you do tend to move.”

So, the bigger message is that a standing desk encourages more frequent movement, which in turn, leads to a more active, healthier lifestyle.

Of course, you can adopt some simple strategies to add activity to your workday, such as parking further away (or for us mass transit devotees, getting off a stop or two earlier), and moseying over to your co-worker’s space instead of sending an email.

But companies with an eye on well-being are building those opportunities for movement into the workplace for you.

In addition to standing desks, here are five more strategies I’ve come across in my recent research, several of which have benefits that go beyond the physical. Have any of these shown up in your workplace?

(Photo Adam Petto/iStock / Getty Images)

(Photo Adam Petto/iStock / Getty Images)

1. Open staircases between floors. Swapping out those single floor elevator rides not only gets people moving, it encourages that informal bumping into one another that builds the collaboration and cross-pollination companies seek and co-working spaces nurture.

(photo Dave Pappas)

(photo Dave Pappas)

2. Centralized printing and photocopying centers. Goodbye desktop printers! Hello center core workroom. At BCL, our centralized mailroom houses printers, photocopiers, shredders and other supplies. Being the paper-intensive person I am, I figure I clock at least 1,000 steps a day picking up my printouts.

(photo Dave Pappas)

(photo Dave Pappas)

3. Coffee bars, cafes and pantries. Companies know that nothing works like caffeine to draw people out of their chairs, so to encourage their employees to move more, they intentionally locate pantries in slightly out-of-the-way places. I follow a similar strategy on my work-at-home days. Sure, I could easily bring my thermal coffee pot upstairs, but I like to break up my morning with a few trips up and down the stairs.

4. Outdoor trails. Suitable for a lunchtime run or a walking meeting a la Mark Zuckerberg, these are appearing on many a corporate campus. Yes, this is easier done in Silicon Valley than in urban or car-centric areas (having lived and worked in both LA and NYC I can speak with authority). Not only do walking meetings bump up productivity by minimizing human and electronic distractions and interruptions, the reduced eye contact can spark more personal conversation, helping break down formalities, relaxing inhibitions and fostering camaraderie, according to the Huffington Post.

On the heels of her HBR article, business innovator Nilofer Merchant presented a TED Talk on the topic. Other fans of the walking meeting are Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, the late Steve Jobs and Barack Obama.

Walking also leads to more creative thinking, according to a recent Stanford University Study. My BCL colleague Colin, an advertising copywriter, relies on a combination of phone calls with his San Francisco-based partner and lots of long walks here in Brooklyn to spark inspiration.

(photo Huffington Post)

(photo Huffington Post)


5. Eliminating trash cans. (my personal favorite). A novel solution for sure. The designer in Argentina who shared this with me said it had been remarkably successful in getting people moving.

Come to think of it, I think the New York City Transit Authority adopted this strategy in the subways, but for entirely different reasons. Strangely enough, it apparently worked as far as reducing subway trash.

No report on increased Fitbit steps commuters earned with added trips upstairs to toss those Starbucks cups.

Check back for Part 2 where I share some lesser known benefits of standing desks.

In the meantime, how are you building in activity into your workday?