Working On It, Week 10: Getting Off My Ass At Work

This past week in trying to live forever, I’ve been doing lots of stress relieving activities. Since fucking up my toe trampolining I haven’t been able to do much else. So, I’ve been focussing on short meditations and getting lots of nutritious foods and doing outdoorsy human interactions, which has all been making me feel pretty swell.

What’s really not working right now is that I’ve been stress-smoking a lot. It’s bumming me out in a big way. I want to be someone who’s stronger than that. I want to move to Chicago in two months as a non-smoker and really mean it. Unsurprisingly, beating myself up doesn’t help the situation, it just makes me feel helpless and like a total failure and I get more stressed and smoke more.

On a happier note, my toe is getting better. I’m back to walking now, after spending the week taking the bus. And while higher impact exercises are still out, I’ve been doing whatever parts of the 30 Day Yoga Challenge that I can. Have you been doing it? How’s that going?

This week I thought we’d talk about the best ways to stay active if you spend most of your day sitting, whether it be because you’re studying or working a desk job or in another profession that requires lots of bum time. If this doesn’t apply to you, this week’s article might be a bit dull, I’m sorry! Take comfort in the thought that you’ll probably out-live us all.

Earlier this year, all kinds of concerning research said that sitting down for 4+ hours a day increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, even among people who exercise regularly. I sit down for roughly 10 hours a day and that’s not likely to change in the future. So, in addition to quitting smoking permanently, spending less time on my ass while at work has become a recent goal of mine.

Here are a few little things that have been working for me:

Using a Desktop Timer

For me, remembering to stand up at regular intervals is most of the battle. Activity Timer really helps with that. Every 30 minutes it prompts me to stand up and do something good for my body, like stretching or stair-climbing or sneaking into the meeting room for a cheeky plank. I’ve made sure to add plenty of liquid-related activities so that I can improve my hydration while improving my lifespan. Two birds, etc. Plus I figured out that by refilling my water bottle in the kitchen instead of the bathroom, I’ll be doubling my # of business hour steps.


Phone a Pal

I spend most lunch breaks standing outside my office, chatting to my gal pal in Chicago. For whatever reason, it never crossed my mind that I could be talking and walking. Wild, I know. I guess my brain is still learning how to see the healthier alternative to everyday things. So, I’ve started strolling around the block during those calls and my legs and body are a lot happier for it. If you have a convenient person to call then give it a go.

But Don’t Phone Colleagues

I work on the top level of a 3-story townhouse, which means there are 15-30 steps separating me from the majority of my co-workers. I figured out that by walking to their desks instead of using the phone or email, I can probably climb about 400 steps per day. At first the idea of approaching colleagues directly felt a little disruptive but thankfully everyone has been chill about it. If your colleagues are less receptive to face-to-face interactions, maybe you could just stand up whenever you’re on the phone.

Make Everyone a Hot Beverage

Offering to make tea/coffee for every team member in the vicinity will put you on the fast track for promotion. But more than that, it’s a pretty safe excuse to leave your desk for a while. No-one will accuse you of slacking if you’re always bringing them green tea, trust. My office has 8 people in it which buys me about ~10 minutes of movement.

Volunteer to Run Errands

I’ve started looking for little jobs around the office that will take me away from my desk. In the past week I’ve been taking out the trash, buying the communal milk, cleaning the kitchen and stocking the bathrooms. Basically all the chores that my co-workers pretend not to notice need doing. The downside is that I need to get my hands dirty. The upside is that I’m one step closer to immortality.

Ask For Standing Space

I’ve asked my boss if he’d buy a standing desk for everyone in the office to use when they needed a break from sitting. A handful of co-workers backed up my request and he agreed to install one when we move to a new space. I won’t be there to benefit but still, it’s nice that asking for healthier workspace worked out. Maybe y’all could try it out on your bosses.

So that’s what’s been working for me so far, in terms of getting off my ass more often during the day. Is this something you’ve struggled with? Do you have any neat tips? Let us know in the comments! Especially if you work in another types of environments; I can only speak to what’s been effective in an office.

Coming up next week: Our playlist!

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Founding member. Former writer. Still loves Autostraddle with her whole heart.

Crystal has written 320 articles for us.


  1. Well at least once a week I am walking to bank for work, in fact I just came back from the bank(where on my way they were filming a brawny white dude getting prepped to punch cold meat). Not to mention I have to walk a flight to get the restroom, & also take a short flight of stairs to go to the storage at work. On a good day I am moving boxes in 20lbs range, but I don’t think that enough for me.

    As for smoking you could always try the nicotine gum, and/or a simple, e-cig(maybe one that produces enough amount of vapor to replicate smoke better. You can even start at lower nicotine level too.

    • I think I’d be motivated to walk around outside more often if I saw completely random things like brawny white dudes being filmed punching cold meat.

  2. Those are all such good ideas! Next semester I finish lab work (walking all day) and switch to writing (sit at desk all day) and I was bummed about the imminent loss of fitness but now I have Crystal’s plan for staying alive with a desk job. Stoked!

    Speaking of labs, one of my colleagues actually does research on the most effective methods of quitting smoking. I forget the results but they did find a specific strategy more effective than others. It was a combination of things that was dynamic in responding to each person’s preferences and patterns for quitting smoking; I’ll see if I can find the paper just in case you’re interested. Sending all the encouragement!

  3. Push-ups in the handicap stall (and then copious hand-washing) has worked well for me. No need to sneak into a conference room!

    • I didn’t lie, but I can’t make myself to do it everyday. Tomorrow I go with second day. For excuse – I do yoga everyday.

      • my excuse is school just started and there were so many other changes happening to my schedule, i didn’t want to change my workouts too. but i might fire up the first yoga video this weekend. maybe.

  4. The European Society of Cardiology Congress is going on right now and while I can’t find a link to the study, lecture or paper, it seems to be a fact now, that walking for twenty minutes a day will add seven years to your life.
    I also seem to dimly remember that the more you walk, the longer you live (I think the cutoff was at 3 x 20mins a day).
    Be that as it may, smoking will drive all of that gained lifetime down the drain pretty quickly. Google the Framingham Study if you are in need of motivation.
    But if you’re really stressed right now, maybe reduce your smoking for now and wait to completely quit til after the wedding?
    I’m pretty much stuck at home writing the ph.D.thesis/being unemployed these days and that whole darebee shenaningan has been such a blessing!
    I get cagey when I’m trapped down for too long and the short bursts of exercise are a pretty good fit.(Better than the ab challenge, I finally killed that thing off of my phone today..hooray!) I also make a point to go for a walk/out of the house at least once a day.
    Back at work, I always used the stairs wherever I went, which really helped me have nice legs, even if I never made it to the gym for anything else.
    Btw., Darebee released a new program last night, called “Age of Pandora” which is a post-apocalyptic role playing fitness quest and it’s super cool so far!
    I really love the site for the fact, that it’s free AND ad free!

    • Thanks so much for the suggestions, I’ll look into that study.

      I am super looking forward to my toe healing all the way so that I can check out the darebee exercises. I’m glad you’re enjoying the Age of Pandora one!

      • I was doing a lot of bike riding last week for transportation purposes and kept to their core and upper body stuff for the time being, because my legs were just ready to fall off.
        I realy liked the “Master Pack” and “The Boulder” workouts, but the one legged push ups put too much strain on the toes, so that probably wouldn’t work for you right now.
        But maybe the abs thing is up your alley:

  5. One thing that can help you stop smoking is the fact that bladder cancer is the #2 cancer in smokers. Imagine how sexy it is to pee through a tube coming out your belly button after they remove your bladder.

    • I’m pretty sure people who smoke know it’s bad for them… Also I have an ileostomy (not from smoking) and it hurts to see stuff like this.

  6. Using the toilets on the other side of the building instead of the closest can add some exercise into the day. Bonus point for a different floor.

  7. My office has a treadmill desk that you can reserve and use, but I haven’t tried it yet as I’m afraid that trying to work and walk can only result in an unfortunate face-planting episode.

      • Treadmill desks are different from regular treadmills and are not loud, especially the Lifespan ones (no affiliation, just a fan). I just proved that the Anthro desk and fancy office chair at my work cost more than a treadmill desk that was on sale and got one approved for my office. I also got them to get a shared one to schedule.

        When I had back surgery then gained back some weight, using a treadmill desk was a great, low impact way to get moving at work.

  8. I finished day 10 of the yoga challenge this morning!

    I just moved to a new city so I’m really feeling the need for some human connection. I joined the local hockey league, I have a clinic Thursday to get the rust off my blades and then the season begins the week after Labor Day. I think I’ll try to hit up open skate twice a week until the league begins to help my body get used to the ice again.

    When I was working in the office I’d offer to take everyone’s fedex down to the basement and take the stairs. I also made a lot of tea and water getting breaks take a longer route than needed.

  9. maybe instead of beating yourself up, try meditating on the positive benefits of not smoking? a friend of mine used some sort of app that regularly sent her updates on how her body was healing since she quit smoking based on statistics. It gave a much more concrete idea to focus on than just “You’re lowering your cancer risk”. For example, after just 72 hours your bronchial tubes relax and energy increases and after 2 weeks circulation increases (which will help those workouts feel easier).

    Also there are calculators to show you how much money you have saved since you quit. Again, making the benefits less abstract.

    Don’t beat yourself up, you’ll get there. Beating an addiction is tough and just because you haven’t succeeded yet does not mean you aren’t strong or that you won’t make it. You’ve made so many fantastic, positive changes already, you’ll get there.

  10. I just finished Day 6 of the yoga challenge! It feels so much more worthwhile than doing 100 sit ups a day that I’m actually sticking to it.

    There are lots of little exercises that can be done at your desk every 30 minutes or so. Squats, calf raises, wall sits, dips, etc don’t need equipment but get your circulation up. If you don’t have your own office, getting neighbors on board makes you feel less dorky and keeps you motivated.

  11. I’m trying not to unload my sad flat foot feelings and life with chronic discomfort or any cobwebby ‘I’m not suppose to live’ wooby stuff, but ugh standing desks and the 4+ hours increases risk ect. makes all those things hic-up to the surface.

    Ah and you know what else about sitting for long periods of time? Our bodies were likely not even designed for it structurally.
    My screwy hypermobile body started to take serious umbrage in the lower back with sitting after I gave up working out a couple years ago.
    And hasn’t as much since I started up again.

    So avoiding risks related to long term sitting and lower back umbrage
    I know how to do

    1) taking 10 minute breaks across your day of long sit time

    a] walking somehow, even if it’s just pacing really, add some shoulder rolls or
    wind milling, mime some upper body swim moves or some free weigh moves

    b] body rolls, as in the dancing kind or any dance moves you can do in place

    c] head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

    d] squats, just a few focusing on quality (time) not quantity

    e] This thing:

    f] literally any exercise that can be done with minimal space and without ruining your office clothes or making you stink.

    2) Support your core, build its strength

    a] sit ups are dull and you might not have the power yet, so dance
    i) find some tunes and shake it like ya tryin make it.

    Okay that got away from me. There’s lots and lots of exercises for building the core but dancing is the funnest (for me) and puts the least amount of stress on things.
    Additionally some people have such little core to start with some of the standard exercises are daunting and easy to give up on.
    Every body has hips and dancing that uses the hips uses the core, and depending on what you’re doing the legs in varying intensity. Watch Shakira dance, the way she rolls it comes from the feet and hips are following.
    The circular motion male exotic dancers use? Starts in the ankles. Sure the thrust is in the hips, but no ankle no circle.
    Consider itttt.

    No yoga challenge for me, the doggie challenge is enough.
    Last week she tried to belly up snuggle my neck while I tried to do a push up from the ground. Doggie quadrapus, deadly cute yar.

    • I have lower back issues as well, what has really helped has been the “standing” in Tai Chi.
      For gathering one’s wits and warming up, my Tai Chi teacher spent hours teaching us how to stand in a certain way, with knees bent, having the feeling that a cord was attached to our head and pulling us upwards,pushing the lower back out to create a straight line,etc.
      I’m not doing Tai Chi anymore, but I still use this exercise or just walk up to a wall and roll my back against it to flatten it out whenever my back gives me too much trouble.
      Maybe that’s something for you, too, if you need a quick fix and can’t move around too much.

      • that’s cool! I feel the same way about mountain pose in yoga (tarasana). It’s like a master class in how to have good posture; helped me a bunch for lower back health. I bet I would like tai chi if I tried it.

  12. Thank you for posting this! I just switched from having a fairly active job to being a full-time student, which means a *lot* more sitting time than I’m used to! I’ve been trying to take walks during my breaks from class, but I imagine that will get harder as the semester rolls on and I have studying to do on my breaks. I’m thinking of utilizing the student fitness center and maybe riding an exercise bike while I read. I wish standing desks were more of a thing in schools, I would totally use one!

  13. YES TO EVERYTHING!! I spend a lot of time at the desk also. I wish I had a desk timer to use. I try to get up after charting on a patient or two and go around the unit, checking on patients if they need anything. I also try to ask my co workers if they need help with something. Usually on weekends because it’s a bit more chill I do some of the stuff you also do like taking out the trash, changing the water etc. It’s a lot of good extra movement.

    Recently our 3 elevators in the hospital have been out of order so we only have one that works. My co workers and I try our best to come early and go from the 1st to the 7th floor. At the end of our shift i really try to encourage everyone to walk back down. When they don’t, I go down by myself and after a floor or two I can hear them coming down the stairs too. =) I wish I could park further away from the building but there have been reports of cars being broken into and I don’t really like that idea since we get out around 7pm.

    I haven’t done yoga yet I’m on my last week of my 12 week cycle thingy whatever. Haha. I just have 2 more days: shoulders and arms. I’ll probably take a week off to do some cardio then try to get into yoga. It looks really really good.

    We could totally use standing desks at work!! Our boss wouldn’t buy them though. GOD DAMN PATRIARCHY.

  14. I just started the yoga challenge yesterday! Very into it thus far. This whole series has just been hugely helpful in nudging me towards actually doing things I’ve wanted for myself but haven’t for one reason or another.

  15. Yes! I strained my lower-back from sitting too much at work.

    One sneaky tip that someone told me, was to keep a jug of water on your desk, and drink 3 jugs worth of water every day –> you stay really hydrated, and have to get up and pee a lot! I tried it, and surprisingly, it worked!

  16. Echoing so many of the recs above! (I’m a PhD student working a zillion hours daily in my home office.)

    I recently had a flare-up of my old lower back issues for which I had surgery in 2009, and totally revamped my home office to incorporate more movement.

    First, I got a FitDesk–actually, I think it was on Riese’s or someone else’s holiday wish-list one year! While it’s hard for me to concentrate on super dense reading while biking, it’s fabulous to use while emailing or doing less brain-wattage-demanding writing.

    Also, I got a convertible stand-sit desk that has changed my life.

    And I use a Pomodoro app for productivity, and make sure to drink water and walk around during all of my breaks, and do a few dance-y stretches (and core work, squats, etc.) during my longer breaks. Body is SO much happier now.

  17. This is the best and SUPER helpful for me right now. My work day is split between sitting in front of a computer and driving in a car. I recently got rid of the chair in my bedroom, so often when I’m working in there I am just standing at my bookshelf which is ideal standing desk height for me. However, these stretches and hearing people talk about how much better they feel when taking breaks and drinking water are inspiring me to actually do that.

  18. I’ve recently quit smoking by reading Alan Carr’s ‘Easy Way To Stop Smoking’. It worked for loads of people I know, and doctors have recommended it to me too! Some parts are super dated and he’s a little bit sexist sometimes but overall it works.

  19. I’m late to contribute but I love the idea of an activity timer at work! I don’t often get up from my desk so I can’t wait to try this out. An easy task for my list would be to refill my water bottle on one of nine floors at my office. It would be a great workout to climb all those stairs! Also, I’m smiling from spotting ‘Call Katie’ on your list :)

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