Workplace Weight: Is Your Office Making You Fat?
By Chelse Benham
“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest,
strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be
applied.” Herophilus, (335 -280 B.C.) a Greek physician
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it estimates that 64
percent of Americans are overweight or obese, resulting in 300,000 preventable
deaths each year and the numbers are growing. Many people work long hours
stationary at their desks involved in little to no physical activity in or outside the
office. Sometimes, their immediate surroundings are laden with secret stashes of
“comfort foods” such as candy bars, sugared sodas and chips rich in fat, sugar
and weight producing carbohydrates. When those in-between-snacks aren’t
being consumed, lunchtime activities further revolve around eating out or
grabbing lunch on-the-go at fast food restaurants where healthy nutritional food is
“If people walked 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon they
would meet the 30 minutes a day recommendation from the Surgeon General.
The University of Texas-Pan American is promoting its own health initiative to
make people aware of their overall health,” said Ruby de la Garza, health
education coordinator at UTPA’s Border Health Office. “We encourage people to
move and get up during their work day because it’s very likely that they are going
to get home and continue to be sedentary. Chances are they are eating
unhealthy food during the day and getting no exercise and then going home and
doing the same thing. It all adds up.”
At Health Canada Web site found at www.hc-sc.gc.ca lists several benefits of a
healthy life style. The following are just a few of the perks in improving one’s
1. Key benefits of regular physical activity include reducing the risk of
developing or dying from several conditions, including heart disease,
diabetes and high blood pressure, and helping to control weight and
promote psychological well being.
2. Four large population studies in the United States and Canada have
shown that general well-being is somewhat greater, and depression is
much less frequent, in those who take much exercise relative to those who
take little or no exercise.
3. As much as 50 percent of mortality from the 10 leading causes of death in
the United States can be traced to life-style.
4. Being more physically fit will have one or more of the following benefits to
an individual's health:
- prevention of obesity
- improved quality of weight loss with physical activity than with
- reduction in chronic fatigue
- increased joint flexibility
- greater stamina, strength, endurance and coordination
- less strain and tension
- an increase in one's "vitality"
- improved work performance
5. The physical and psychological benefits of aerobic exercise are well
established. Aerobic exercise has been shown to raise the level of
protective high density lipoprotein, to improve physical fitness and to
reduce blood pressure among hypertensives. Exercise also seems to
have positive psychological effects, which have been partially attributed to
biochemical changes such as increased levels of endorphins and
6. The death rate and occurrence of disability were only about one-half as
great among persons with good health practices (sleep 7 to 8 hours daily,
eat breakfast almost every day, never or rarely eating between meals,
currently being at or near prescribed height adjusted weight, regular
physical activity, not smoking cigarettes, moderate or no use of alcohol),
as among those with poor health practices.
7. There is promising evidence that strength training and other forms of
exercise in older adults preserve the ability to maintain independent living
status and reduce the risk of falling. Physical activity appears to relieve
symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve mood.
In addition, the Web site summarizes the risks of physical inactivity with the
1. Habitual inactivity is thought to contribute to hypertension, chronic fatigue
and resulting physical inefficiency, premature aging, the poor musculature
and lack of flexibility which are the major causes of lower back pain and
injury, mental tension, coronary heart disease and obesity.
2. It has been estimated that up to 70 percent of low back pain is due to poor
muscle tone and flexibility of the lower back muscles and poor abdominal
3. Four large population studies in the U.S. and Canada have shown that
general well-being is somewhat greater, and depression is much less
frequent, in those who take exercise relative to those who take little or no
exercise. Exercise helps to lessen the physiological and psychological
consequences of stress.
A Northwestern University study published in December 2003 showed that
people out of shape in their 20s run a high risk of developing high blood
pressure, diabetes and a variety of heart attack risk factors as early as in their
“I don’t need to convince you that if you’re physically fit, you’re going to come
across better to others,” writes Dr. Tony Alessendra, social psychologist and the
author of “Charisma – Seven Keys to Developing the Magnetism that Leads to
Success. “We’re all attracted to healthy looking people. What you’ll find, over the
intermediate to long term, is that as your body gets used to the greater demands
of exercise, you’ll look better and feel better. You’ll have more energy. Your self-
esteem and self-confidence will also likely improve.”
Alessandra suggests making fitness a lifestyle, not a chore. He offers the
following ideas to get healthier at work:
• Walk up and down the stairs to your office or apartment.
• Meet and discuss business while walking around the office and its
• Drink water often throughout the day to stave off hunger pains and feeling
• If you can walk to a meeting do so rather than drive.
• Walk the next golf game and skip the golf cart.
• Schedule workouts as must-attend meetings.
In the April 2004 edition of Prevention magazine, the article “Fit Execs are More
Successful,” illustrated how physical fitness improves career success. In a Ball
State University survey of 336 entrepreneurs, the physically fit professionals
netted bigger returns. Compared with sedentary business owners, daily
exercisers were 10 percent more likely to feel personal satisfaction at work.
According to Prevention, being overweight actually costs you more. It reported
that of the more than 178,000 people evaluated, the annual cost of health care
for an obese American is $1,500 higher than for a normal-weight person.
Prevention provides helpful tips to alleviate weight gain at the office:
1. Never go hungry. Eat small amounts of high nutritional foods (fruits and
vegetables) throughout the day.
2. Never go thirsty. Dehydration can make you feel tired, light-headed,
headachy, dizzy and confused. Keep water at your desk and drink it
throughout the day.
3. Don’t drink sports drinks and sugared sodas for re-hydration. They contain
glucose or sugar. Avoid fruit juice because of the high fructose or sugar
content as well. These drinks add unnecessary calories and are loaded
with lots of sugar that if unused is stored as fat. Water is always the best
4. Eat plenty of low fat, high protein snacks. This includes low-fat dairy
products, legumes and nuts.
5. Take supplements. Take a multivitamin everyday and get plenty of
6. Eat more fish. Fish is rich in omega-3s that help reduce inflammation and
stress. Baked or broiled, it can be less fatty than other types of meat.
7. Limit Fats. Fat is the last nutrient to leave the stomach and it slows down
8. Set an alarm to go off every hour to remind you to stand up and move
around. Even if you just swing your arms or take a deep breath, you'll feel
9. Use the restroom on another floor and take the stairs.
10. Deliver documents or messages to co-workers in person rather than by e-
11. Pack your lunch rather than eating out.
12. Stock healthy snacks at your desk so that when you get hungry you aren’t
tempted to go to the vending machine. Have healthy snacks handy such
as fruit, baby carrots, pre-cut veggies, individual salad dressing packets,
Cherrios, and, if you have access to a fridge, low-fat yogurt.
13. When seated at your desk, maintain good posture. Common aches and
pains from sitting too long at a desk include headaches, eyestrain,
rounded shoulders and back pain.
14. At the desk, squeeze in your abs; make a muscle in your legs, hold a
couple seconds and relax. Repeat this for several minutes.
When you consider eating at your desk ask yourself why you want to eat. Are
you really hungry or are you stressed, bored or thirsty? Evaluating why you “feel”
hungry may prove insightful. Food can provide immediate feelings of satiation
and fullness that may be misplaced as addressing the deeper issues of feeling
stressed, frustrated or anxious. Food comforts and it is often used as a form of
“self-medicating” to deal with emotional distress. Take a proactive stance now
regarding your weight. It may save your life.
”He who has health has hope; and he who has hope has everything.” – Arabian