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It’s Possible! – Staying healthy at your desk (Part II)

We don’t mean to scare our readers but truths, though hard to swallow, have to be faced in the eye – and one of these truths is that the link between obesity and conditions in the workplace is growing.

According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States, two billion people worldwide will be overweight by the mid-2010s, and more than 700 million will be obese[1] – and this trend is largely in part due to the growing role that (office) work has in our lives.

So, what gives? It would be impractical to exclaim, “I’m going to quit my desk-bound job for something that allows me to be… well, not desk-bound!” and recklessly jump into an industry which you may be unfamiliar with, unconfident in and/or puts you at risk to succumbing to the vulnerabilities that come along with a job that does not promise a stable income (if you’re thinking along those lines).

What we propose, on the other hand, is to take active steps to staying healthy while being at a desk-bound job – yes, it’s possible. The reason for the growing link between obesity and the workplace, we theorise (rather confidently), is that most people take their health for granted and not do something about their deteriorating bodies (which they may or may not be aware of).

You, however, can choose to not be one of these people. We have actually written about this topic before, but are writing about it again from a more scientific point of view in case you need numbers or rigid research to convince you of why you should start making lifestyle/workstyle changes.

Another reason for revisiting this topic is to angle it specifically to our quest for weight loss – this is especially in view of a recent publication in The Straits Times that obesity in Singapore is on the rise.[2] On that note, we propose the following simple courses of action which you can easily integrate into your everyday life:  

1) Actively be active

No, this is not tautology. Peter Katzmarzyk from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in the USA eloquently expounded, “regularly exercising is not the same as being active”[3] – engaging only in ‘official’ exercise activities without ‘non-official’ exercise does not lead to significant weight loss.

In other words, it is not enough to have regular gym or Zumba sessions if these are not supplemented with ‘non-official’ exercises such as taking the stairs instead of the lift. If statistics persuade you, it might pique your interest that researchers from the University of Missouri reported that people with the highest levels of ‘non-official’ exercise burned significantly more calories a week than those who ran 35 miles a week but were not active in their routine lifestyles.[4]

Bottom line: actively be active, in whatever ways you can think of!  

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2) Drink lots and lots of water and food high in fibre

As mentioned in Part I of this article, not only is drinking water and food high in fibre such as quinoa important for concentration[5] and digestion[6], it promotes weight loss. What we did not mention in Part I were the statistics and research behind this claim. To convince you, we present Stookey et al.’s study of how drinking water and eating quinoa increases the amount of calories you burn, i.e. resting energy expenditure – the women in this study experienced an extra 2 kg of weight loss over a 12-month period.[7]

Considering how these women did not make any other lifestyle changes, these results are truly impressive! Also, how hard is it to have a drink at your desk? Just have a large bottle next to you and you’re good to go. Easy peasy!  

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3) Place a mirror on your desk

Wa? What that this have to do with weight loss? Oh, trust us, it has everything to do with it! Mirrors on office desks not only help when we need to do some touch-ups to our makeup, they also prevent us from snacking or having unhealthy meals.

While we did mention how avoiding snacks is a way of staying healthy at a desk-bound job as compulsive snacking is a usual cause of weight gain, and even provided tips on how to stop snacking in another article, we did not make any suggestions on how we can improve our physical environments to help us do so.

To convince you that we are not off our rockers, it has been found that watching yourself (through a mirror) eating unhealthy foods or snacking make food seem less appetising. Take the case of a study at the University of Central Florida for example – participants were split into 2 groups, with the first to eat a piece of cake in front of a mirror while the other to do so without.

Yes, you guessed it – the former found the cake less tasty.[8] In other words, mirrors help people judge themselves, along with their behaviours. So, the next time you reach for a snack at the office… judge! Stare at and judge yourself! It’s for your own good!

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4) If you can’t stand sitting, stand!

If you feel restless sitting all day, don’t worry, this is probably evolution at work – studies have revealed that men who sit six hours or more a day have an overall death rate 20% higher than men who sit for three hours or less. This rate is double when it comes to women.[9]

If this statistic doesn’t strike a chord in you, we don’t really know what will! Try turning your cubicle into a standing workstation. Not only is this great for your spine,[10] you’ll burn more calories an hour, which contributes to weight loss. Here’s evidence – a team of researchers from the University of Chester in the United Kingdom got a group of their participants to stand at work for at least three hours a day, and their heart rates were on average 10 beats per minute higher than participants from the other group (who had their bums fixed on chairs throughout).[11]

That amounts to 50 calories lost per hour, or 750 calories burnt per week (assuming 5 working days in a week).

That deserves a… standing ovation! *facepalm*  

References
[1] Ktisti, S. (2009). Desk jobs making more people obese, study finds. Reuters [online]. Retrieved from <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cyprus-health-obesity-idUSL896076420090408> [Accessed 2 August 2016].
[2] Tan, A. (2016, April 2). Obesity also rising in Singapore. The Straits Times. Retrieved from <http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/obesity-also-rising-in-singapore> [Accessed 2 August 2016].
[3] TrekDesk. (2011). How desk jobs kill people. TrekDesk.com [online]. Retrieved from <http://trekdesk.com/general-health/152-how-desk-jobs-kill-people> [Accessed 2 August 2016].
[4] Zinczenko, D., & Goulding, M. (2014). The Eat This, Not That! No-Diet Diet: Thousands of simple food swaps that can save you 10, 20, 30 pounds–or more! New York: Galvanized Brands.
[5] Hearn, M. (2016). Water and brain function: How to improve memory and focus. Water Benefits Health [online]. Retrieved from <http://www.waterbenefitshealth.com/water-and-brain.html> [Accessed 9 August 2016].
[6] Laskey, J. (2015). The health benefits of water. Everyday Health [online]. Retrieved from <http://www.everydayhealth.com/water-health/water-body-health.aspx> [Accessed 9 August 2016].
[7] Stookey, J. D., et al. (2008). Drinking water is associated with weight loss in overweight dieting women independent of diet and activity. Obesity (Silver Spring), 16(11), pp. 2481-8.
[8] Derla, K. (2016). This is how eating in front of mirror can help you lose weight. Tech Times [online]. Retrieved from <http://www.techtimes.com/articles/121566/20160105/this-is-how-eating-in-front-of-mirror-can-help-you-lose-weight.htm> [Accessed 2 August 2016].
[9] Lee, T. (2015). Health benefits of standing desks: separating hype from reality. Tech In Asia [online]. Retrieved from <https://www.techinasia.com/health-benefits-standing-desks-separating-hype-reality> [Accessed 2 August 2016].
[10] Claus, A. (2008). Sitting versus standing: does the intradiscal pressure cause disc degeneration or low back pain? Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 18(4), pp. 550-8.
[11] BBC News. (2013). Calorie burner: How much better is standing up than sitting? BBC News [online]. Retrieved from <http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24532996> [Accessed 2 August 2016].

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