Being a CPA is a great job — one of the best, we always say! — but it’s largely performed in a seated position. In terms of physical health, that’s…not ideal. The average American sits down 9.3 hours per day, a far cry from our ancestors in terms of physical labor. That’s a marked increase even since 1980, and it’s probably not a coincidence that obesity rates doubled in the same time frame.
That’s no good for our health — people with sitting jobs develop cardiovascular disease at twice the rate of people with standing jobs. The reason why is fairly self-evident: sitting expends almost no energy, even compared to standing. Sitting burns just one calorie per minute from the moment you sit down, and electrical activity in the muscles shuts down just as quickly. After two hours, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (or “good” cholesterol”) levels drop 20 percent.
The best thing you can do to safeguard your health is simply to get up and move. It’s easiest to do that during non-work hours, of course, but there are steps you can take in your own workplace to stem the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
VSCPA member Tom Visotsky, CPA, is one office worker who has fought successfully in the battle of the bulge. Visotsky, who is now the finance and business manager at First Baptist Church in Richmond after a lengthy career in industry, runs several road races a year at 63 and was chosen to run the “Dash for the Cash” in the 2015 Monument Avenue 10k.
For Visotsky, the best way to stay on top of a workout regimen is accountability. Some people post about their workouts on social media as a way to create a public record. Others find like-minded individuals to join them in their workouts.
“Whatever you’re doing, getting a running partner is huge,” Visotsky said. “You’re a lot more committed if you know someone else is showing up, whether it’s a one-on-one thing or with a group.”
That can apply both in and out of the office. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find a friend who can take a walk during your lunch break. Just that effort of getting up and moving around, breaking that no-activity rut, helps burn calories. Even a 10- or 15-minute walk will help break the vicious cycle — and you’ll enjoy the added benefits of increased energy and focus.
If you can’t move around, at least stand up and stretch. It’s mild exercise, but you’re standing instead of sitting. And a good, long stretch will release endorphins and increase your energy level and reduce stress. Combine your stretch with breathing exercises can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
You can take things a step further with a standing desk, or even a treadmill desk. Standing to work instead of sitting brings the benefits of burning more calories and requiring more muscle activity, and a standing position can be better for some balky backs as well. A treadmill desk, while expensive, needs no explanation regarding the benefits.
A less cost-intensive option is to replace your chair with an exercise ball. Sitting on a ball forces your body to continually make minute adjustments to remain balanced and exercises your core muscles in doing so. Exercise balls can help you improve your posture and balance and strengthen your back.
Of course, what you do with your body is only part of the health picture. How you fuel it is just as important, and when you work in an office setting, it’s easy to fall into bad eating habits, particularly when unhealthy snacks are free for the taking.
Packing healthy snacks goes a long way toward improving your nutrition. Making your lunch at home instead of getting takeout is a way to maintain control over what goes into your body. Fruit and vegetables are your best bet and the easiest way to avoid unhealthy pre-packaged items.
Staying hydrated is another key element of what goes into your body. Those eight hours at your desk are the perfect time to fulfill your daily water intake. As a bonus, you’ll feel fuller and will be less likely to resort to mindless snacking.
But whatever you do to stay healthy, the key is to keep doing it and work through any setbacks. Just because you missed one workout doesn’t mean your whole health plan is shot. Every workout helps.
“Whether it’s running or getting on a spinning cycle or walking or whatever,” Visotsky said, “regardless of whatever plan you would like to follow, the first thing you have to do is like anything else: Show up.”