Does This Job Make Me Look Fat?

You may want to sit down for this. Then again, after you hear what I have to say, maybe you should stand up.

I don’t know quite how to break this to you, but you’ve put on some weight. It may not seem like much at the time, but add those extra few pieces of candy together with the extra hours parked at your desk in front of that screen and, well, it’s adding up. Work is making you fat.
Don’t take it personally. In fact, it’s happening to many of us. The way we’re working isn’t healthy. It’s likely that a majority of workers feel that the pace and cadence of how they work doesn’t contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Count me among those too-busy-to-work-out worker bees. My to-do list is regularly topped by specific and actionable goals like running 2-3 miles four times a week or riding my bike to work 12 times this month. But the things that are more likely to get action are an afternoon cookie washed down by a caffe latte, non-fat milk of course. The reality is, quite simply, that I spend the lion’s share of my willpower just to kick my feet over the side of the bed in the morning.

It wasn’t always so. There was a time when a pre-dawn jog was part of my regular routine. Rain or shine, snow or sun, I laced up my Nikes and pounded the pavement. Now, with work responsibilities growing, family duties increasing and information overflowing, a bout of vigorous morning exercise is more often replaced by a jolt of invigorating coffee.

What’s happened to me is happening to many of us. According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a startling 69 percent of the U.S. population is overweight, and 36 percent of that group is obese. A majority of Americans are walking around with a few extra pounds strapped to their midsections, and it’s not just our physical health and energy that is suffering.

As weights have risen, U.S. worker productivity has fallen off. The Great Recession boosted productivity as organizations focused on efficiency, but the rate has flattened since. In 2011, productivity was essentially flat, and 2012 saw annual growth of only 1.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So it’s not just an issue of keeping our employee health care costs in check, although it is certainly that. Our stationary work habits are weighing us all down. But there is some good news among the sugary haze. You don’t have to be an Ironman to trim back that ballooning waistline.

While a half-hour jog or a blood-pumping spin class are certainly recommended, desk jockeys can take heart that even low-level activity makes a difference. Simply standing up and strolling through the cubicles can make you healthier and more productive. Breaking up the drudgery every 20 minutes with just two minutes of walking controls glucose levels in the blood and helps regulate cholesterol, an Australian study published last year suggests.

While that may seem like a whole lot of meandering, particularly when the boss is breathing down your neck for that overdue report, it’s actually quite manageable. Rest easy that it won’t require the installation of rows of new treadmill desks that force workers to walk while they work.

There are simpler, easier-to-implement solutions. Fed up with endless meetings filled with bloviating colleagues, some managers have begun instituting standing meetings where participants stand rather than sit around a table. It serves a nifty dual purpose: It prevents Bob from accounting from delivering his 25-slide presentation on the ins and outs of the new expense form and gives workers a chance to stretch their legs and get the blood flowing.

Some managers have gone to walking meetings. Taking a stroll around the corporate campus is good for your health, but it’s also a way to tackle thorny problems from a different perspective, with the sun as your illumination.

So the bad news is your job is making you fat. The good news is it may not be as hard to be healthy as was once thought. That’s something worth standing up for.