America Becomes Desk Potato Nation

desk potatoAmerican workers are not as vital, strong and fit as they used to be. In fact, credible research shows that we have become a nation of desk potatoes -- 80 percent of our jobs are sedentary and require only light physical activity. Jobs requiring moderate physical activity accounted for 50 percent of the workforce in 1960.

The official conclusion of the study, done by researchers at universities in Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina, states: "Over the last 50 years in the U.S. we estimate that daily occupation-related energy expenditure has decreased by more than 100 calories, and this reduction in energy expenditure accounts for a significant portion of the increase in mean U.S. body weights for women and men."

To quantify that, Americans today are expending around 120 to 140 fewer calories per day at work than they did 50 years ago, and that correlates pretty well with the amount of weight we're gaining. We've actually reached the point at which about one in three Americans are not just a few pounds overweight, but certifiably obese.

The results of this study could shift the focus of weight treatment away from merely concentrating on the food we eat and the exercise we get after hours. Employers, health specialists, fitness trainers and our little old selves should be paying attention to physical activity at work as well.

Less Physical Activity Required

Think about it: In the past 10 years, our work lives have become more sedentary than ever. We don't even have to walk to the mailbox, because we're sending emails. Physically attending meetings is no longer a necessity, with digital meetings and communication becoming increasingly common. We don't even have to pick up the phone.

And with more and more telecommuting, the physical activity involved in getting to work is actually being reduced.

At least our fingers and thumbs are getting a good workout, but that has little effect on weight gain.

It seems that while we've been streamlining our work habits for speed and efficiency, we've stripped most of the physical activity right out of the workplace. In addition to watching what we eat and drink while working, we're going to have to find ways to consciously put physical activity (don't call it exercise) back into our work routines. Some suggestions:

  • Park farther away from your office.
  • If it's possible, bike or walk to work -- or at least to a public transportation stop that is more of a distance away.
  • Always take the stairs.
  • Take walks during breaks or at lunch.
  • Keep light weights and/or resistance devices at your desk that you can lift while talking on the phone or performing tasks that don't involve two hands.
  • Have a colleague help you get up and out -- make a pact that you'll walk together.
  • Do desk-crunches. While you're typing, you can tighten your stomach muscles and lift your legs off the floor.
  • Offer to carry things for people. Make sure you do it the right way, so it doesn't hurt your back, but schlepping large boxes of copy paper across the office for someone can be good for you.
  • Be observant -- when you see an opportunity to get up and get the blood flowing, take it -- even if it seems inconvenient at the time.

Sure, we can wait for our offices, and even the government, to mandate physical activity boosters in the workplace that directly correlate to making us 50 percent more active, as part of a red-tape wrapped, bureaucratic policy program. But why not place the responsibility for our own health clearly where it belongs -- squarely on our own shoulders? Mash that desk potato image before it fries you.

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