10,000 is the widely acknowledged goal for the number of steps we should take per day to stay fit. For some, that number is easily achievable. For others, not so much. According to the NHS, the average Brit walks just 3000 to 4000 steps per day.
A few weeks back, my wife bought me a Fitbug Orb fitness tracker in a thinly veiled effort to get me off my fat arse and doing something that might actually benefit my health aside from drinking one
bottle glass of red wine per day.
It’s proved to be extremely revealing in several ways, not least of which is the contrast between my activity levels on days when I’m working in an office and days when I’m not.
Take a look at this activity log from last week:
This is pretty typical of what I’ve observed over the last month. I work in a client’s office twice per week, and on those days (the grey bars) I’m typically 40% to 50% less active than on the days that either I work from home or am out at meetings.
For me, regardless of the absolute number of steps I’m taking, that’s pretty shocking.
Until I ‘went rogue’ (h/t Amanda Cleary) I’d been working primarily in offices for the last 15+ years. By my rough calculations, that means I’ve done about 15 MILLION fewer steps than had I not been office bound! That’s the equivalent of about 7500 miles.
Or put another way, I could have walked a third of the way around the entire planet while I was sat on my butt at a computer.
Here’s the thing. In the words of Led Zeppelin, it’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine.
I’ve always been awful at taking lunch breaks, sitting at my desk eating a sandwich rather than venturing outside. I even ran a campaign about eating al-desko a couple of years back for a healthcare client; monitoring Twitter for people saying they were eating lunch at their desk and tweeting them a personalised ‘pass’ to encourage them to take a proper break.
The irony of me sitting at my desk running that during my lunch hour did not escape me.
Indeed, the office I currently work in twice a week even has a walking desk in it. How often have I used it? Rarely.
While pondering all this I came across a ‘study’ (I use the word lightly as it’s a PR survey and we all know how rugged they are *cough*) which says that the average Brit feels on-form for just four hours per day due to tiredness, energy slumps and in-office distractions. 57% of us often feel lethargic at work, with lack of exercise and poor diet cited as the main reasons.
Add in the mental effects of the office environment such as stress and anxiety, bullying (yes it does exist) and the demands of others on your time, and it seems pretty clear to me that the humble office can be pretty awful for our health.
So what can we do about it?
The 10,000 step figure is believed to have originated in Japan before the 1964 Olympic games. A company introduced a device called a ‘manpo-kei’, which roughly translates as ‘10,000 step meter’. It was a business slogan, but it resonated and stuck.
In the last month I’ve only hit that figure a couple of times, but I regularly walk between 7000 and 9000 steps per day when not in an office. The walk to drop the kids off at school makes up about 1500 of those, so doing that rather than palming it off on my wife is important when I can do it. Pick them up as well and that’s a third of my daily activity nailed.
Others have different ways of trying to stay active despite having desk jobs. I posed the question on Facebook.
“I try to walk for 20 or 30 minutes every lunchtime”, says Kate Hartley. “Having a Fitbit really helps, as I’m obsessed with getting my 10,000 steps each day. I find it clears my head for the afternoon and stops that sluggish post-lunch feeling.”
“I hit my yoga mat every day for at least an hour”, says Jason Konopinski.
Lucy Thorpe has a slightly different approach: “I do a couple of hours work early, then I go for a run and come back and do some more work.”
Meg McAllister is similar to Lucy, getting her exercise in early: “I start most days with a 45 minute walk. I find it gets me into the right frame of mind to face the day and makes me more productive.”
And Laura Sutherland and Liv Thorne take their dogs for a walk. “I realised a few months ago after downloading the MyFitnessPal app how little I moved during the day”, says Laura. “I’m fortunate enough to run my own business and have an office which allows dogs, so I now take Eddie for a proper walk at lunch which adds around 3000 steps to my day. The walk helps me to clear my head and refocus for coming back to my desk. It’s made me more productive in the afternoon when some people start to flag.”
Others, however, are more pragmatic about office life and echo my own behaviour.
“Best of intentions, too many work distractions”, says Kate Stinchcombe-Gillies. “The benefits of exercise are known; today I walked 15 minutes to a client meeting and even that gave me a clearer head to tackle things. But I firmly believe that unless you do it every day it’s too easy to deprioritise.”
And Victoria Coppin, who seems to me to spend half her waking life in the gym, says: “I’m a religious morning trainer, and I do try and have a stroll out of the office at least once a week. But any more than that just feels impossible! So it’s not through laziness, just classic office distractions or meetings.”
What about the companies we work for, and the people who run them? Should they take more responsibility for their employees’ wellbeing? It’s easy to blame being sedentary on the demands of your job and use the ‘I’m too busy to take a break’ excuse. I know I have. And still do.
But I’d argue that most companies, especially those in the communications sector, already provide for their employees. Asking around I’ve heard stories of gyms, showers and even climbing walls in offices.
Gini Dietrich, founder of Arment Dietrich in the USA, tells a cautionary but inspiring story: “A few years ago, I read a study that showed sitting for long hours is worse for your heart than smoking a pack of cigarettes. It said it doesn’t matter how much you exercise; it’s detrimental all around. That freaked me out, so I bought everyone on the team a Jawbone UP and we held an internal contest to see who could get the most steps. It was a fight at first. Sitting all day is a hard, hard habit to break.
But I kept pushing and led by example. Today we have a virtual team who all either ride a stationary bike or walk on the treadmill during meetings. I spend about three hours a day at my bike desk these days. Even our clients have started participating. They don’t like sitting at their desks while they can see us moving!”
Louise Lloyd runs Popcorn PR, the client whose office I work in twice per week. “I issue pedometers to all of my staff, as well as offering free fitness classes, the aforementioned walking desk, yoga/breathing techniques and circuit classes in the actual office. I totally believe in it”, she says. “But you can lead a horse to water…”
Louise hits the nail on the head there. It’s up to each and every one of us to ensure that we keep active on the days we’re stuck behind a desk. And realising that maybe I’m one of those horses, just how inactive I’ve been when in an office and after listening to the stories of others, I’ve decided to start to try and make myself take a break at lunchtime.
I turned 44 on Monday, and I’m going to take responsibility for my ‘office health’ and take a half hour walk every day. This will please my wife tremendously.
On the first day of doing this I took a stroll to find this right on the office doorstep!
But what about you? What are you going to do to get your 10,000 steps in and make the office a less inactive and unhealthy environment?