Bit by bit, a more fit workplace

Los Angeles TimesMarch 31, 2014 

  • Stand and deliver

    Not every company will hire the likes of Dr. James Levine to revamp their culture and facilities to make health and fitness a priority.

    We asked readers to tell us how they stay active at work and learned that many have already embraced a standing or treadmill desk. Here are some of the best recommendations we got.

    •  Good enough for a judge. Judge Donna Stroud of the N.C. Court of Appeals in Raleigh points out that being a judge is a pretty sedentary job, but lucky for her, appellate judges aren’t required to sit in a courtroom most of the time. Stroud got a treadmill desk last year – an adjustable height computer desk with a treadmill attached – and she now walks all day at about .5 to 1 mile per hour. “At this speed, I can read, type and do most anything I need to do,” says Stroud. “I feel much better, my posture is better and I never get sleepy late in the afternoons.”

    •  10-15 miles a day. Gary Poster of Raleigh, an engineering manager, says he’s been using a treadmill desk in his home office for about three years. According to Fitbit, a personal fitness tracker, Poster walks from 20,000 to 30,000 steps a day (10-15 miles). Barbara Turner of Durham also uses a treadmill desk. “Any time I do work at the computer, I am on the treadmill,” she says. A bonus for Turner is that using the desk has relieved her back pain.

    •  Do unto others. When Virginia Raby, who works at Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, admired the pastor’s new standing desk, she came to work the next day to discover he had given it to her. (He plans to build another for himself.) “I have to admit, at times I do feel like I should be checking people in for their flight to Kansas City,” Raby says. “But I do love it.” She says the desk has inspired at least one church member to get one for their own office, and adds that she wouldn’t want to stand for 8 hours, but for 4-5 hours at a time, it’s great.

    •  Use a milk crate. Avery Goldsmith, a Durham teacher, already stands much of the day, but finds that standing while using her computer helps her energy stay constant and improves her posture. Purchasing a standing desk wasn’t in her budget, so she spent $4 on a plastic milk crate at Target and put her laptop on that. “It is the perfect height and gives me extra desk space, as I can keep things under my computer,” she says.

    •  Or a big box. Sara Williams of Mebane says it’s easy to make your own standing desk. She used a copy paper box and four old encyclopedias to elevate her keyboard and then put her monitor on a shelf above it. “This keeps me upright and is such a nice break from sitting all day,” she says.

    Staff writer Brooke Cain

Nearly all of us need to make more time for fitness. Finding that time, though, can seem impossible.

But what if you could wedge that workout in at work? If it sounds far-fetched (or a great way to get yourself fired), listen up.

Dr. James Levine, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic, says Americans don’t need to log more time at a gym. Instead, they need to banish their sedentary ways by incorporating easy bursts of activity from dawn to dusk.

He calls it NEAT fitness, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. In layman’s terms, it means cranking up the body’s calorie-burning abilities by weaving in near-constant movement – such as standing, walking, even pacing – at every opportunity. Becoming a body in motion that stays in motion could help you burn 500 or more extra calories a day.

And Levine said he believes the best place to start is in the workplace.

If you’re rolling your eyes, you might be guilty of what Levine calls “1930s thinking, to see employees (and the workplace) as merely tools of productivity.” But “the really cool companies” – Google, Yahoo, Apple – “take the health and the happiness of their employees seriously,” Levine said.

It’s not just for altruistic reasons, of course. It’s easier to keep health costs in line when employees are healthier, and a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, he said. “A healthy workplace is the way of the future.”

Such a future might resemble the San Clemente, Calif., headquarters of Stance, an upscale sock company that tailors its line to Southern California’s snow, skate and surf culture.

Chief Executive Jeff Kearl says the 4-year-old company has spent more than $100,000 on employee perks such as a basketball court, a skateboard half-pipe, game tables and showers. A chef prepares healthful breakfasts and lunches. A gym, personal trainers and classes are coming shortly.

“It may be hard for people to believe, but we have zero abuse,” said Kearl, whose office runs by a “freedom and accountability” philosophy that loosely translates as: Just get your work done, OK?

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