Sitting at a desk all day isn’t healthy. Countless studies show prolonged sitting raises the risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and myriad other ailments. Even for people who exercise daily, the negative effects of a sedentary rest-of-the-day can trump the benefits of a workout.
In the IT world, how can people break the sitting habit? We reached out to tech pros who’ve found ways to be active during the workday. Here are some tactics that work for them.
Take a walk
“I take a 15-20 minute walk a few times a week, more when I can. I take a couple of technicians with me when they are available, and we chat about miscellaneous things,” says Jeremy Gibeault, senior manager of information systems at restaurant chain Firehouse Subs. “I find that when we are away from our desks, ideas flow more freely and I get to know them on a more personal level.”
Developing new habits is important, says Trevor Ewen, a software engineer who uses a standing desk for roughly half the workday, holds meetings away from his desk, and walks around the block when he’s taking long calls. The discipline of a routine “will remind you to be active on even the dullest of days,” Ewen says.
Staying active is park of work life at Beck Tech Support, which offers tech support to small business and consumers. “We have work rules about what to do and when to do it, so each hour we have 10 minutes that must be done either standing, walking or physically assembling a system or running infrastructure including cabling. We schedule this for everyone,” says owner Jim Beck.
“Some jobs are easier because they involve physical work for installation and infrastructure, but others such as remote technical support are harder. For those we have a few desks that change height so you can keep on working but you will be standing for those 10 minutes,” Beck says.
Employees doing desk-centric work such as programming or web design are also encouraged to take 30-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon “and during that time we encourage everything from ping-pong to physical game play,” Beck says. “People like the break and we haven't had any issues with loss of productivity.”
Stand on the job
Glenn Cipolla, senior partner and vice president of technology at gaming platform maker INTAP, has been using a standing workstation for more than a year. “I would never go back to sitting. I have hip and back pain, and the standup workstation has proven to be a huge pain reliever while also burning more calories,” Cipolla says. “It has given me a considerable boost in efficiency, energy and problem solving.”
Prabhath Sirisena, co-founder of online billing service provider Hiveage, built his own standing-height desk. “I end up working at my computer at least 12 hours a day. Sitting long is a major health risk that I have tried to avoid by using a standing desk that I quickly hacked together at no cost: a small wooden box placed on top of my sitting desk,” he says. “I use a laptop so it's easy to move it from the box on to the desk when I sit down occasionally.”
“About two years ago I switched to standing while working, and I am never switching back to sitting,” says Laurence Bradford, a web developer and technical writer who found standing while working helped her lose weight and achieve greater focus. “Now when I sit, I can only work for 2-3 hours tops before becoming slightly agitated and needing a change of scenery. When I stand, I can work for hours without becoming distracted or needing to ‘get away’ for a bit.”
Jeremy Irons, a design engineer at Creative Engineering, is very active outside of work and is now employed by a company that encourages a healthy office environment.
“The transition from pre-adult life (lots of change and activities happening throughout the day) to adult life (sitting at a desk or on a commuter train for 11+ hours a day) has been rough for the past two years, and I can feel the effect on my muscles and my health,” Irons says. Now that he stands for most of the workday and makes time for short walks, “I can really feel a huge difference in my well-being between the sedentary work style and the active work style.”
Track active time
Natalie Bidnick uses a Fitbit to remind her to stay active during the day. “Besides a lunch walk, I set my Fitbit to buzz on my wrist each hour to 90 minutes, depending on my schedule that day. Each buzz is my signal to stand up, stretch and take a quick walk around the office,” says Bidnick, who divides her time working as an IT administrator, developer, content creator and data analyst. “This system is easy (just answer the buzz!) and effective. I get 15,000-20,000 steps per day and have never felt better.”
Jake Lane has a similar approach. “The notifications and goals definitely make me more active throughout the day. Sometimes you'll get so entrenched in what you're doing that you'll forget to just get up and stretch periodically, so having the Fitbit really helps,” says Lane, who handles SEO and does development work at startup LawnStarter.
Incorporate multiple ways of being active
Rob Tulman, founder of programming and tech solutions provider Tao Tech, paces during phone calls; alternates sitting and standing; bounces from machine to machine when he’s at his office or a client site; and reclines when he’s programming.
Rui Carreira, webmaster at BuyMenStuff.com, spends most of his day at a desk. To stay active, he alternates between sitting and using a standing desk; takes the stairs instead of the elevator; and uses a step-counter to monitor his activity level.
Some IT pros take initiative and find their own ways to be active. Others get help and encouragement from their employers.
At HubSpot, for example, all employees are provided with adjustable desks that can be used as standing desks or traditional desks. Last year, the inbound sales and marketing software firm added four treadmill desks that any of its employees can use. One of the tech leads on HubSpot's product team started a push-up club, and the participants get together and do push-ups in the middle of the day as a way to break up their work and fit in something active.
Likewise, ad-tech start-up RingPartner, based in Victoria, British Columbia, outfits its employees with sit/stand desks and provides free gym memberships. Once a month the company works with different trainers to have a team building workout.
At KPMG, adjustable desks are catching on.
Every workstation at KPMG’s new Denver Ignition Center is adjustable, so employees can sit or stand while working (see photos at top of page). Most people change positions during the course of the day, says Lou Trebino, advisory managing director of technology enablement at KPMG.
"We looked at various studies of workplace environments, especially the way more creative and technical workspaces were designed and functioning, at what appealed to Millennials, and what was being used at some of the companies we acquired (e.g., mobile/digital experience firm Cynergy) in order to make our offices the most flexible and creative," Trebino says.
The desks at Ignition Denver are also on wheels, so they can be moved around. "When teams come together to work on something or collaborate with a client, the desks can be aggregated into a large project room or placed classroom style, giving us tremendous flexibility," Trebino says.
KPMG’s newly opened Ignition Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., has the same movable, adjustable height desks – and employees at other KPMG offices are requesting them, too. "There has been nothing but positive feedback about the workstations," Trebino says.