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Office Potatoes

Do you ever feel like an “office potato”? Similar to a “couch potato” in your personal life, but as a result of the time you spend sitting at your desk at work? If so, you are certainly not alone. A more sedentary work life is becoming increasingly common in our culture. Conveniently on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings or lunch hour, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 becomes a fitness club for the staff and volunteers who would like to participate in active/healthy living opportunities. We partake in Latin-inspired dance, yoga and even a plyometric routine or two. For the most part, the activities are led by volunteers and are free for the participants. The goal is to get healthy, and for some to rise at an hour that they did not know existed.

I often share stories with family and friends about doing yoga next to my colleagues (and the importance of a pedicure beforehand!) and have learned that they too have active living opportunities at their offices. We discovered that there was great variation between offices with basic health plans and offices with private masseurs and in-house gyms (ahem, this is not the Museum). These differences got me interested in active living health and the reasoning behind fitness in the workplace. Why are employers eager to get their employees to exercise?

Large room with several women in yoga clothing, doing stretches on mats.

Do you parsvakonasana with your coworkers?
Photo Credit:

“Does exercise really help me at work?”

CTV News had an interesting article for the 2012 New Year which examined a number of offices in the Toronto area that were offering employees “opportunities to incorporate exercise and healthy living into their jobs.”[1] Of the offices examined, all had on-site gyms. Managers noted that employees were more active and awake throughout the day and that the staff turnover rate was lower than when employees were not given active living opportunities. What is even more interesting is that including active living in a person’s daily routine is not all that strenuous. A number of studies, including one done in the United Kingdom in 2007, noted that even with relatively low volumes of exercise (6 minutes a day), cardiorespiratory fitness improves.[2] Given the number of people that I know who make “healthy body” New Years’ resolutions to lose weight, we also know that physical activity is important for our waistlines. Obesity, depression, and diabetes have all been attributed to sedentary lifestyles and affect our overall health. Many people spend 7+ hours a day in their offices and employers are realizing that they need to focus on employees’ activity levels in order to preserve and maintain their human resources.

“I simply cannot get away from my office/desk/closet…”

For a myriad of reasons (time, money, weather, etc.) it is not uncommon to hear that someone cannot leave their office. The trouble is, if you do not make the time to get up from your desk, you stay there. All. Day. Consider how you feel after a coffee break or discussion around the water cooler. Generally we feel pretty good because we have had the opportunity to step away from a task. Researchers encourage employers to consider the amount of time their employees are sitting and to break that time up with light-intensity physical activity.[3] The same researchers recommended that for some companies whose employees are truly stuck to their desks all day that sit-to-stand desks could be provided to help promote active living.

“Ok, she’s got a point…now what?”

Active Living, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) “is an approach to life that values and includes physical activity in everyday living.” On their website, CCOHS encourages employees and employers to work together in order to foster workplace activity. They include a list of strategies that employers/employees can utilize for better health.

If you are part of a workplace that encourages an active living lifestyle, what is it like? If you do not already have active living in your workplace, I encourage you to start at the CCOHS website…or join us and start working/volunteering at the Museum!

  1. Favaro, A. 2012. “Employers discovering workplace fitness pays off,” CTV Television. Produced by Elizabeth Philip. Accessed March 1, 2013,
  2. Kennedy, R., Boreham, C., Murphy, M., Young, Ian., and Mutrie, N. 2007. “Evaluating the effects of a low volume stair-climbing programme on measures of health-related fitness in sedentary office workers.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 6:448-454.
  3. Ibid.