Gray: The Dangers of a desk

Your desk is dangerous.

It sounds silly, doesn’t it? It is true.

According to a new national study, conducted by CareerBuilder, 41 percent of Americans have gained weight in their jobs. Desk jobs and high stress jobs are the biggest culprits, including administrative assistants, teachers, nurse practitioners, IT managers, legal professionals and production workers.

For a desk worker, the weight creeps on slowly and steadily because the person sits all day, is more likely to snack out of boredom or stress and is tempted by unhealthy foods around the office. Desk workers also report eating out three times per week. Dining out leads to poor choices, such as high calorie, high fat, processed and oversized meals.

Weight gain is not just uncomfortable; it is dangerous. Weight gain can result in obesity. For adults, obesity means having a 30 or higher on a body mass Index. Obesity is a chronic disease that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Those facts are not something to leave in a pile on a desk.

We have seen this trend locally. Some are taking a bold stand against it.

The employees at Alpena’s Department of Human Services work long hours taking care of people in our community in need, often those in dire situations. They spend all day behind a desk and are tempted by a break room full of junk food from chips to candy, everything around them is in a wrapper.

Many of them admit they gained weight when they started this job. In fact, Michelle Marzean and Brian Popour each gained 50 pounds in one year alone. They have stressful desk jobs and did not have a support system at work to combat weight gain until just two months ago.

Banning together, 12 employees and their guests participated in a six-week Corporate Fit Challenge to fight the odds and take control of their health. One local health and fitness professional, Sarah Morrison, was determined to help. She poured her compassion and coaching into her team. Why? Because she believes they deserve to live happier and healthier.

The participants in the challenge met with their coach, followed a clean eating food plan, recorded their daily activity in a journal, set simple goals to improve their fitness, nutrition, sleep and stress and had access to a health club and fitness classes. They pulled strength and inspiration from each other and their coach to flip unhealthy habits to healthy ones.

For example, they scheduled times to exercise together, committed to packing healthy lunches and snacks, started taking short walking breaks and had water bottles at their desk instead sipping on soda or coffee all day long.

They also stopped skipping meals, stopped buying fast food and started planning ahead.

The employees learned that change is hard, but when people around you are also changing it is easier. It is really that simple. The people who you spend the most time with impact your daily decisions eating out vs. packing lunch, going for a walk vs. answering more emails, heading home after work vs. getting in a workout. Small changes to your daily routine make a huge difference in your health.

Here is the proof. In just six weeks, the team of 12 from DHS lost 96 inches and 106 pounds, which averages eight inches and 8 pounds per person.

Even better than the numbers on the scale, the Corporate Fit Challenge delivered a wake-up call. The healthy habits are sticking around and spreading from cubicle to cubicle. They have started their own internal six-week challenge to eat clean and exercise and invited others in the office to join them. Their jobs require them to help people in need. But to have the energy to do that, they need to take care of themselves first. That finally clicked.

Do not get trapped by the dangers of the desk or you will end up another weight gain statistic. Plan ahead to make your workday a healthy and productive one. To increase your odds for success, recruit people around you to get in on the action.

Trina Gray is the owner of Bay Athletic Club, a mother of two, a national presenter on fitness and wellness and a change agent in the community. Her wellness column appears monthly.