I CAN'T SIT STILL! How I Stay Active While Working In A Cubicle

Doing jumping jacks in the restroom is all well and good, until someone catches you and people begin to question why you aren’t at your desk when they need you.
Publish date:
August 5, 2014
work, cubicle, exercise, office jobs, staying active

I have the sit-still span of a toddler, except it's not nearly as adorable. You have to remind me not to twirl my hair, not to incessantly tap my feet and not to periodically pace a room at an event that requires sitting. I’m a lot of fun at the movies. But really, you need me to get up to refill your popcorn, don’t you? Please?

I’ve always been aimlessly active, which, in the past was alright, but now that I work in a cubicle it isn’t as well tolerated as it once was.

I used to work exclusively retail. Doing 50+ hours a week as a department manager for a well-known big box retailer, I was always on my feet. The 45-minute commute to and from work was the longest span that I would have to sit during a work day. For me, it was great; being on my feet all day meant sitting at home was relaxing. Now, sitting at home feels like a continuation of the work day.

Working retail, I felt focused and energetic. This statement does not include Black Friday or the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. It takes a very special person to find energy after a 15 hour overnight shift. 8 p.m. to 11 a.m. –- those sales do not set themselves, people.

Flash forward a few years and I am now in banking –- back office, desk job, 9-5 cubicle kind of life. The most that I move throughout the day is the 45 minutes that I can use to take a walk on my lunch break. And that is unfortunately dependent on the weather, although I have been known to shrug off the rain and the cold to accomplish a daily walk, and sometimes I’m back inside after five minutes wringing water from my hair. I’ve gotten very good at ignoring the I-told-you-so's and stares from coworkers.

When I first started living the cube life, I would get up in half-hour intervals to stretch. At more desperate moments, I would leave my desk to do jumping jacks in the restroom. Going from an active off-hours job to a sedentary standard hours job is a big transition both your internal clock and your body. And doing jumping jacks in the restroom is all well and good, until someone catches you and people begin to question why you aren’t at your desk when they need you.

The few times that I’d been caught mid-jack, I like to think that it is always more embarrassing for them than it is for me. No one needed to be embarrassed, I was fully clothed. After a series of conversations with a supervisor, I resolved to be a better employee by staying put.

Back at my desk, and much to the chagrin of the interns in the cubes closest to me, I would tap my feet most of the day. They were kind of sweet not to say anything. People work at desk jobs without issue all the time. Surely, I could assimilate. I struggled. Well-meaning people will say that everyone does it (You’ll be fine! My cousin’s wife has trouble sitting too but she got used to it!) and you hear a few not so well-meaning people say "grow up" (You are not a special snowflake, you dumb, millennial, navel-gazing, ding-dong!).

I tried to work through it, but my lower back began to ache and my posture began to take on that famous cubicle hunch. I became fidgety and unfocused. My productivity lowered as I tried to stay focused through the discomfort. There have been studies done about the negative effects of sitting all day long, so I’m not the only one concerned about sitting too much or rather, not being able to sit comfortably for too long.

Do I sound familiar to you? Or like that insufferable cube mate who is always sighing loudly before yelling at the computer and tapping their pen like it is going out of style?

How do you stay active at a desk job without alarming your superiors and bothering your office mates? The trick is not to set up a hopscotch board in the hallway. I know we’d all like to think that we can stand and walk around whenever we please, but at 3 p.m. with a deadline fast approaching, the hours bleed into one another until you realize that it is 6 p.m. and the only thing that you’ve done for the past three hours is type.

After a brief conversation about my habits with the office powers that be, I came up with a solution -– an under the desk pedal bike. It is essentially pedals on a stand, but it makes my day much more active and by default, I feel more focused. Although mine can’t, other pedal bikes can be used as hand bikes, which is also a useful way to get movement in. Although the urge to get up and move around is still present, the thoughts no longer hit me like a stampede because I’m able to move more consistently throughout the day.

This also takes care of the previous concerns that I was never at my desk. Some days, I pedal all day – at first this might be cramp inducing and give you the feeling of walking in a bounce house when you stand. Other days I use it during short intervals like when I want to get up but know that I am unable to –- for example, during lengthy interactive webinars.

My main focus for finding an effective pedal bike for the office was purchasing one that was heavy enough not to move forward as I pedaled and one that didn’t squeak as I peddled or beep as some exercise equipment is wont to do. Most importantly, I wanted one that fit comfortably under my desk, and that allowed for movement without scraping my knees on the underside of the desk. Thus far, with the exception of people in the know, no one has mentioned my new under the desk addition. I managed to find a model that fit my needs.

There are some drawbacks to my pedal bike. I’m relatively tall so despite my best efforts, I do occasionally hit my knees. Sometimes, it is uncomfortable to pedal and takes some readjusting of my desk chair to get it right. Even with these hiccups, I’m still pleased with my pedal bike.

Baring begging your boss to allow you to have a treadmill desk or an exercise ball chair, there are some other cool gadgets that can help you stay active throughout the day. I’m a big fan of resistance bands for some light strength training and stretching as you sit. Typically, I’ll stretch my arms over my head, holding a resistance band with my hands shoulder-length apart and gently open and close my arms.

If you’re interested in going next level and don’t mind being annoyed with a product that you can hook up to hijack your mouse if you stop pedaling, there is always the Gamercize. I thought about this as a way to ensure that I kept moving, but my IT guys probably wouldn’t allow it, and who wants to feel like they keep locking themselves out of the computer all day?

How do you guys keep it moving at work? Or are you content with sitting still?