The Healthy Workaholic

As  a professor, I spend a great deal of time at my desk or in meetings.  This lands me in the sitting position almost the entire time I’m at work.  If that isn’t bad enough, I end up taking my work home which means even more sitting.  Then, in my free time I like to blog and read, activities also done in the sitting position!  One day I realized that  the vast majority of my day is spent sitting.  Even though I had a 6 day a week/1 hour a day exercise regimen, I was living a sedentary lifestyle.  That realization hit me hard.  In the last year I decided to make a change and convert my unhealthy workaholic lifestyle into a healthy one.  Am I cutting back my work schedule?  Writing fewer grants?  Teaching less?  Blogging less?  Hell no!  Instead I decided to change my working environment into a healthy one so that I can do what I love without it incurring health risks that I will pay for later.  Here are some of the changes I have made. I challenge you to make a few healthy tweaks to your work life too!

Treadmill Desk Part 1. I bought a Trek Desk (pictured above) for my home treadmill so that I can put in some mileage while working at home, blogging, or even just surfing the net.  I have had this for well over a year now and it was worth every penny.  My routine is to walk about 1 mile at a time at 2 mph at least two times per day.  This adds up to 2 miles or 4,000 steps, all while getting things done!  Here is my original post about the advantages of the Trek Desk.

Treadmill Desk Part 2. Unfortunately my work office could not accommodate a Trek Desk but I was able to squeeze in a treadmill.  (I recommend for finding a reasonably priced treadmill.) Once the treadmill was installed, I found a $40 attachment on Amazon called the SurfShelf  that holds my laptop on the treadmill (see pic to the left).  I’ve been using this for a few weeks now and I love it.  I don’t have the surface area of my Trek Desk to put my mug, papers, and other desk items, but it’s the next best thing if space is an issue.

Foot wear. I now keep a pair of comfortable sneakers at the office not only for when I use my treadmill desk but also so I’m not deterred from walking across campus in dress shoes.  I never realized how much the wrong shoes could be a deterrent to walking around at work. I find that I’m much more mobile now that I have comfortable walking shoes that I can slip on at any time.

Snacks.  Hunger is the best sauce, as they say, and a diet destroyer. I make it a routine to have plenty of fruit around by bringing at least 2 pieces a day.  Fruit nips the munchies in the bud and prevents me from lurking around vending machines later in the day.  My other favorite snack there is 100 cal pack of almonds.  I only bring single servings—because if I bring snacks for the whole week, I eat 2-3 days of snacks in one day.  Single servings (instead of stocking up) prevents oversnacking.

Hydration. Hydration is key at work and a cup of decaf tea throughout the day is nice to nip cravings and relax me.  I keep a nice selection of decaf choices by my Keurig machine (an office must have) and drink several cups throughout the day.  This keeps the caffeine consumption down too.

Parking Lot Trek. Finally, I work on a campus with several buildings and parking lots. I used the Runkeeper app to measure the distance from various parking spots, with the very worst parking spot being about ½ mile walk to my office (see simulation below).  I take this spot (usually because it’s the best I can find!) a few days a week to add another mile (2000 steps!) to my day.

Can you work a lot and still be healthy?  I say YES! I love my work and while it certainly can be a source of stress, I found a career that I’m passionate about and sometimes it really is hard to pull away.  I don’t want it to kill me though.  By adding more activity into my day I have more energy, my productivity has increased, and I feel better knowing that I can pursue my passion without it costing me my health.

How have you put a healthy spin on your workaholism??  I would love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments section!

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  1. Mbfgmike says:

    Awesome post! I also put in a lot of hours and find taking a walk through our office complex helps(I keep a pair of walking shoes in my office) I also have a set of dumbells in my office. As you know I also like to do some sort of exercise every hour throughout the day at least once a week, its a fun thing to do with others all over the world via twitter (example #plankanhour)

    • Sherry says:

      Yes! I should have mentioned #plankanhour as a GREAT work day activity break. a 1 minute plank each hour gets an entire ab workout in without even noticing it! I find that the quick break also snaps me out of mental lulls, which can happen after staring at the screen for hours on end. Thanks Mike!

  2. I envy that you fit a treadmill in your office! I built a stand to raise my keyboard and mouse high enough off of my desk that I can stand and work. I typically do this for about half the day and I find that I’m more likely to pace around, do some squats, or stretch as I work. It’s especially nice when I’m writing to wander around my office or down the hallway to clear my head. I’m not sure how many steps it adds to my day, but at least it’s less sitting time!

    • Sherry says:

      Yeah it certainly is a luxury to have the space for a treadmill at the office, however if you can get one for home, you’d be surprised how often you can use it while working/computing. 20 minutes here and there while checking emails, searching for airline fares, wrapping a few work loose ends, gchatting with a friend, and next thing you know you’ve trekked a mile or two!

  3. sarah says:

    This is great. i’d looked into these, but hadn’t heard how they really work. I like that you can use it with your existing treadmill. I’m going to have to consider getting one.

    • Sherry says:

      Sarah, yes both the Trek Desk and Surf Shelf are separate from the treadmill so if you already have a treadmill you are almost there. You can also do more intensive workouts without moving/removing the devices (they don’t get in the way even if running), which is nice.

      Thanks for your comment!


  4. Flo says:

    I just ordered the SurfShelf! That is brilliant. I work from home, and I have a treadmill in my basement. I am going to walk on the treadmill while I am on conference calls where I am only required to listen, not participate in. And I can also see spending that first half hour of the day when I normally am going through my inbox on the treadmill, too! No more excuses for me of “I didn’t have time to exercise”. Thank you!

    • Sherry says:

      That’s awesome! GREAT use of time. Nothing is more rewarding than clearing out an Inbox AND seeing you just walked 2 miles while doing it. Just be sure to walk a slow pace (slower than you would if you were going to walk for a workout on your treadmill). No need to sweat or hit a target heart rate, the idea is just to sneak the steps in. If you feel it’s distracting you, go slower and that will probably help.

      My only problem now is that my 5 year old wants a turn!


  5. Sally says:

    I’m busting into that office!!

  6. Hi Sherry! Thank you so much for this lovely article. I love the “park far” idea! I’ve always wondered why people wait and create traffic for a close space when a further one is better! And, of course, the security people patrolling those lots have also been deprived of movement by their cool but sedentary Segways.

    A few years back I saw a great talk by Ernesto Ramirez, “Your Chair is Killing You” at Ignite / San Diego. His 5-minute talk changed my life and I put together a treadmill desk in January 2011. I love your discovery of the “SurfShelf”! I think it’s a device that will let a lot more people easily start treadmill computing. On the other end, for my own desk I put a 116cm / 46 inch monitor on a wall-mounted arm, so I can walk and have a large viewing area and a full keyboard.

    I’ve just launched the “Year of the Treadmill Desk” and we’ll be doing 12 treadmill events in 12 months, starting on Monday 20 Jan when we virtually walk with Lawrence Lessig and the other participants in the “NH Rebellion”.

    Thanks again for this post and this website. I think it’s easy to get the idea of something like a treadmill desk across to people, but hard to get them to cross the line of “going to all the trouble.” Your arguments and easy solutions like the “SurfShelf” can hopefully make that move simpler.

    Best Regards,

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