17 tips for staying healthy while working a desk job

NBCUniversalThere are little ways to keep healthy during work hours.
  • Sitting at a desk for eight hours straight can make being healthy difficult.
  • The keys to being healthy are good nutrition and movement.
  • There are little ways to get healthy at the office, like taking the stairs, preparing your meals ahead of time, and doing bodyweight circuits at your desk.

When you’re working from an office desk, movement is probably at a minimum. Meetings are held in conference rooms, so you’re basically just carting your body from one sedentary location to the next, and depending on your workload, venturing out of your cubicle for lunch might not always be an option.

And unfortunately, not all work environments are the healthiest, either. There’s always a birthday to be celebrated, coffee breaks in a kitchen tempt you with snack-filled cabinet, and breakfast meetings are made a little more bearable with a spread of bagels and cream cheese.

Trying to stay healthy while working a desk job can almost feel like an impossible task if you’re only focusing on that eight-hour time-stamp. You can be healthy, it just requires you to put in the time (both in and outside the office) and commitment. Here are a few expert tips on how to do just that.

Note: This post has been updated.

Keep moving.

iStockDo whatever you can to make sure you are moving around.

Easier said than done, but it is possible.

“As a trainer working with clients of all types from professional athletes to lawyers for over 10 years, my motto is and has always been that you have to keep moving,” CEO and founder of CrushFit, Ben Williamson said. “Whether it’s walking the dog, going for a run, biking to work, or simply sliding the sneakers on at lunch and walking around the business park, 9-5 workers need to do something to keep moving.”

Invest in a mini fridge.

Daniel Goodman / Business InsiderHaving your own mini fridge ensures you have healthy snacks.

Translation: Say buh-bye to takeout lunches and grab-and-go snacks from the kitchen.

“For people who find it difficult to leave the desk to eat, getting a mini fridge and packing it with healthy easy to grab sliced fruits and vegetables is a must to beat the temptation for grazing on chips and cookies,” American College of Sports Medicine Certified personal trainer, V Shred‘s lead trainer, and an expert in nutrition, Benjamin Suyematsu told INSIDER.

Find every and any excuse to walk.

“If you drive to work park far,” Suyematsu said. “The key to losing weight with a desk job is to look for ways to move more and sit less. If you work at an office complex park far and walk to and from your actual office.”

Also, it’s definitely time to start taking the dreaded stairs over the elevator. At least you know the stairwell won’t be crowded at 9 a.m.

Practice mindful eating during your lunch break.

Getting up and away from your desk to eat lunch is just as important as taking a walk to the kitchen for a coffee break.

“Eat in the common work kitchen area or an empty conference room,” Suyematsu suggested. “Use the time to really be mindful about your meal. Taste the food. Take your time and enjoy the meal as opposed to rushing through which only adds air to your stomach leading to bloat and even indigestion.”

Stop assuming you need a gym membership to lose weight.

LightFieldStudios/ ShutterstockThere are ways to lose weight without having to make it to the gym.

Can’t make it to the gym before or after work? Corey Phelps told INSIDER no membership, no problem.

“Carve out 30 mins three to four times a week to work out,” the D.C.-based NASM-CPT creator of Cultivate365

Bodyweight said. “Bodyweight movements can go a long way to help with weight loss. Adding in resistance bands and dumbbells are not only easy to keep at home or the office, but they can provide a challenging workout that won’t break the bank.”

Cut back on the big three: Sugar, alcohol, and high-fat foods.

Jameson Fink/FlickrSugar, alcohol, and high-fat foods are what pack on the pounds.

“The biggest things to stay away from while trying to lose weight are sugars, alcohol and high fat foods,” CruBox trainer, Brian Evans said. “It is important to eat a super balanced diet and additionally, stay away from food that is labelled low fat or sugar free. Typically those food have to either added fat or sugar for taste than the normal full calorie options.”

Weight training should be done in the morning for optimal results.

Bojan Milinkov/ShutterstockWeight lifting is better in the mornings.

Pick things up and put them down moments after you rise out of bed.

“While cardio has great health benefits, it’s ‘fat/weight loss’ benefits are short lived,” world-class athlete, Olympian, and expert celebrity trainer, Peter Donohoe explained. “The metabolic effect on your body, post weight training, will set your body up to burn fat for longer in your day. Muscle burns fat, and we need to burn fat … get lifting!”

Drink a lot of water, but not with meals.

iStockWater is best throughout the day.

According to The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the average adult should be drinking two litres, or eight cups, of water per day, though this number can change based on physical activity, gender, and more. However, Demi Dee of The Knockout Room said your goal should be to drink the recommended amount of water around your meals.

“Aim for 3L of water per day, but drink water around your meals, not with your meals,” the CEO and founder explained. “If you drink water with your meals, you will dilute the digestive juices in the food you eat. Drink more water on days when you exercise.”

Get enough quality sleep.

Paramount PicturesSleeping is essential.

Nutrition and movement are two of the most important elements of staying healthy. The third is sleep.

“Aim to turn the company phone and email off at least 1 hour before you want to go to bed. This will help you wind down,” former desk bound IT professional, turned certified personal trainer, Rob of Minimal Fit suggested. “Also try dimming the lights at home, having a hot bath/shower and using an app like Headspace to help you relax.”

Set goals to meet and exceed gradually.

AppleSetting smaller goals for yourself is better than one big goal.

Feeling healthy won’t come overnight, but if you set small goals, those little achievements and milestones will motivate you to keep going.

“Depending on your activity level, it may be best to schedule just 10-15 minutes of cardio, two to three times per week. Once that’s manageable, increase it to 20-30 minutes. Then start adding more days until you exercise every day,” Scotty of Plant Based Scotty Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) told INSIDER. “It’s all about setting goals, prioritising time, and just doing it.”

Meal prep.

ShutterstockMeal prepping is great in the long run.

It might feel tedious at the beginning of your journey, but over time you’ll find that meal prepping is essential because it sets you up with healthy alternatives whenever hunger strikes.

“Do some kind of prep before the week starts. Slice veggies and put them a small amount in a container for each day. Hard boil a dozen eggs and toss one or two on your salad each day. Stock apples and bananas at home,” USA Track and Field running coach/American College of Sports Medicine personal trainer, Meredith O’Brien, MS, USATF of the East Coast Run Project told INSIDER. “They are easy to transport and sturdy for the trip to the office.”

Keep a food journal to hold yourself accountable.

Ryan Snyder/FlickrIt will keep you aware.

Even if this means simply jotting down whatever you’re consuming throughout the day on a sticky note, or plugging it into an app on your phone, O’Brien says journaling keeps you on your toes.

“More so than being a guideline, [food journaling] can bring all important awareness to the food choices you’re putting into your body both good and bad,” O’Brien added.

Set regular alarms that remind you to move throughout the day.

BIReminders are key to making sure you get up and move around every 50 minutes.

If you’re the type of worker to “forget” to eat lunch in the heat of a deadline, you’re probably the employee who’s glued to their desk around the clock.

“One of the things you can do is set an alarm on a phone or something else that reminds youto get up and move every 50 minutes,”Workout Anytime VP of Fitness Greg Maurer said. “If you work in an office building, it’s as easy as getting up, walking up and down stairs or taking a walk. If you do that every hour on the hour, there will be a lot of movement.”

Ditch the sugary energy drinks.

Dan Kitwood/Getty ImagesDitching sugary drinks will make a difference.

“If there is one diet tip we can give to an office worker, it is to cut the soft drinks, sweet tea, and energy drinks,” said Paul Miller, editor and founder of Compression+Design. “Learn to love sparkling water, black coffee, or simply ice water. The reduction in calories is significant.”

Give intermittent fasting a chance.

Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDERSee how intermittent fasting works for you.

Intermittent Fasting isn’t for everyone, as is the case with any trendy diet plan. However there are a lot of benefits to this way of eating, so if you haven’t tried intermittent fasting before, Rachel Donohue suggested giving it a fair try.

“Intermittent fasting is simply not eating for an extended period of time,” the personal trainer and fitness personality clarified for INSIDER. “The results can be incredible, especially for desk staffers [due to the many temptations]. To ultimately work yourself up to intermittent fasting from 9 p.m. to 2 p.m. the next day, start off slowly – by pushing your first meal of the day by an hour every 2 days.”

Be aware of the snacks you’re stuffing in your drawer.

White bear studio/ShutterstockMake sure your snack drawer is healthy.

It’s no secret: A yummy stuffed snack drawer only adds to the temptation to pointlessly graze during an afternoon slump. Instead, Donohue suggested thinking of your snack drawer as a tool to help you to not over-eat at dinner or at lunch.

Bring a change of clothes to work.

Africa Studio/ShutterstockBring something to make sure you have no excuses to not work out after work.

Are you the type of person to leave workout clothes somewhere visible so you have zero excuse not to workout? This tip from Lisa Swanson, the owner of Body & Soul Coaching and Fit After 50 Body Transformation programs allude to the same concept.

“Even if you don’t go to a gym, you’re not going to want to exercise in your work clothes. You can change for lunch and go for a walk. [Or] change before you head home, and when you do arrive home, go straight to your workout room, treadmill, or pop on that DVD and get to work.”

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