Healthy Living: How To Beat the Sedentary Office Worker Blues

Last year, I started an industry job in business analytics after teaching high school for a couple of years. I quickly realized that I had put myself into a rather insidious work environment: the cubicle farm. It was a drastic change from being on my feet all day in the classroom. A passive commute sandwiching eight hours of sitting in a dreary cube farm is no way to spend the majority of my adult waking hours, especially with my desire to become a professional athlete. In order to fight my new sedentary lifestyle, I have incorporated a bike commute, standing desk, functional strength work, and yoga into my daily work routine.

Alex interacting with students in the classroom

Never a dull moment, pretty much the opposite of sedentary

Drawing from Prior Experience

As a teacher, I constantly moved about the classroom, not just encouraging and coaching my students, but squashing hate-speech and other forms of harassment, and wrangling as best I could to keep their teenage brains focused on notoriously unpopular and demanding subject matter. Work didn’t stop in between classes or during lunch, as I had to patrol my “zone” with a Sheriff’s Department radio on “lunch duty.”

Alex at the white board in front of students at their desks

Some time was spent at the front of the room

Three students at the board, Alex talking to a student at the student's desk

But mostly I worked to get my students to teach each other

Within a few weeks of work in the office, I realized I needed to develop a sustainable personal wellness plan to get my activity level back to where it had been.

First up: Fix the Commute

Bicycling, in my opinion, is one of life’s great pleasures and is the perfect way to start and end a work day. Fortunately, my better half and I are able to live in a place that allows me to commute by bike on relatively safe roads and allows her to commute on transit. She often takes an early stop on the way home to add a 20-minute walk into her daily routine.

Alex with his bicycle

Ready to hit the road on my trusty Gary Fisher

Alex riding his bike

Visibility is key

Alex parking his bike in a bike rack in a parking garage

My ‘parking spot’ is closer to the building entrance than our CEO’s

Alex walking up the stairs

Always take the stairs!

Next on the Chopping Block: Eight Hours of Sitting

At first, I brought in my exercise ball, which requires active core stabilization to remain balanced. This was a huge step up from a conventional chair, and I quickly progressed to balancing with my feet off the ground for minutes at a time. Unfortunately, medical research indicates that too much sitting of any kind is bad for the body. This Mayo Clinic article pretty much sums it up.

Fortunately, the cubes in my particular farm are modular, which allowed for a quick and easy transition to a standing desk. I set the desk height so that my elbows could rest at a 90 degree angle, propped up my monitor up to eye-level, and voila. It took a month or so to get used to heavy concentration on difficult tasks while standing for prolonged periods of time, especially towards the end of the day. However, working on my feet raised my energy levels, increased my appetite, and coupled with my cycling, started to lift my blues.

Alex standing at his standing desk

Just standing around in my super comfortable Vivobarefoot shoes

Alex sitting on a large exercise ball and reading from a binder

Sometimes I’ll mix it up and use a Swiss ball

Third Challenge: Move Throughout the Day

I started by making a morning and afternoon trip to the cafeteria to get hot water for tea. The simple act of stepping out of my cube and walking for a few minutes helped to clear my mind and focus on my work.

When I found out that the breakout rooms on our conference floor are almost never used during lunch, I jumped at the opportunity to practice power yoga at work. A simple 45-minute yoga routine reinvigorates my mind and body, combating the post-lunch slump and enabling a much more productive and creative afternoon. Even better, when I can’t get work off my mind, the quiet, meditative environment often helps me see through the clutter and identify the clearest path forward. For those not drawn to yoga, I’d wager that walking, cycling, weight lifting, basketball, or pretty much any physical activity will engender a similar effect.

Alex beginning a yoga routine

Lunch time = yoga time

Alex in warrior one yoga position

The Vivobarefoot shoes are quite comfortable for yoga as well, and keep my from slipping on the 1970’s carpet

Alex in bridge yoga position

Bridges are perfect for strength and stability

Alex in a head stand yoga position

Still standing, just not at my desk, or on my feet

Throwing in a little core work with inverted leg raises

Throwing in a little core work with inverted leg raises

Alex rolling legs on trigger point roller

Rolling out

I found the benefits of yoga at work to be so great that I started taking 10- to 20-second handstand breaks to reinvigorate myself a few times a day as well. I try to do it as nonchalantly as possible, away from view from co-workers, but I still get funny looks if someone sees me.

Alex doing a head stand between two office chairs

Nothing like a head stand to get some blood flow to the cranium

Final Touch: Get Outside

My most recent discovery was a park tucked right behind the building where I work. I had been wanting to add some upper and lower body strength training to my day so I began taking an athlete’s “smoke break” every morning. I walk out the building’s back door, complete two sets of 10 pull-ups, 10 box jumps onto a sturdy picnic table, and some single leg calf raises.

Alex standing on a playground below a set of rings

About to start my “smoke break”

Alex hanging from rings

First up is…

Alex in a pull-up position on the rings


Alex inverted on the rings

Then a little playground-style fun

Alex standing on the ground in front of the picnic table, ready to jump

Then I move to a picnic table for some ‘box’ jumping

Alex just landing on the picnic table, with knees bent and arms outstretched

No gym required!

Alex standing on the picnic table bench with his heel off of the bench

Lastly, some one-leg calf raises, they really help my running

This trip outside allows me to take a quick mental break from work, take in some fresh air, and strengthen my body in the beautiful outdoors. I return to work refreshed and ready to push forward. Although I appreciate you reading this blog, I never find surfing the internet to yield such positive results.

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6 Responses to Healthy Living: How To Beat the Sedentary Office Worker Blues

  1. shelly cilke says:

    Hi Alex, I feel energized and ready to think Triathlon !

    You look great! thanks for tips

    Shelly Iowa city

  2. Oshri says:

    Great suggestions. They apply to artists and musicians, too. What I love is that you don’t care about what others think about doing headstands in the office and sitting on a huge red ball in the office. I’d be surprised if your company doesn’t start offering those as replacements to chairs for all their employees, seeing how you’re looking and feeling and performing. Inspiring!

    • amodestou says:

      Actually, we don’t have sprinklers in the building, and I had to take the ball home because it was a “fire hazard”. A few other people have standing desks now, and I anticipate this will reach a tipping point in office around the country within the decade.

    • Aaron says:

      Ha! If the company offered them as replacements for the chairs, they’d probably offer balls that are a bit deflated, but not enough that anyone could really complain. šŸ™‚

  3. Pingback: Race Report: 2015 Xterra Mountain Championship | Alex Modestou Racing

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