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Sitting Can Be Dangerous to Your Health

Question: We have a mandate to create a healthier workplace and have recently heard that too much sitting increases health risks. Over 70% of our employees have "desk jobs". What can we do?

Answer: The naked truth is that sitting isnít good for our bodies. Yet sitting is what we spend most of our time doing. In fact we North Americans sit approximately 9.3 hours a day. We donít even dedicate that much time to sleeping. As hunters and gatherers, most of our time was spent on our feet out of necessity. But with the advent of television, computers and the almighty desk job, it is now a necessity to sit Ė how ironic! Though our shift to computer-based work has done great things for productivity, it has unfortunately done terrible things for our bodies and our overall health.

Marla Ericksen
Empower ME
With over half of Canada's workforce either overweight or obese, employers need to be doing more to encourage healthy lifestyles in order to minimize health risks, optimize productivity and keep employees motivated. An American Journal of Epidemiology study in 2010 showed that healthy women who spent 6 hours a day sitting had 37% increased risk of dying versus those who spent less than 3 hours a day seated. If we factor in other health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, the compounded health risks increase significantly. In reality, the negative health effects of sitting are devastating and something has to change.

In today's volatile economy, it is increasingly difficult for employers to cover the cost of gym membership fees, offer on-site fitness classes or even find space to hold in-house programs due to budget cuts. As most employees with "desk jobs" are confined to an office or cubicle, we strongly recommend that you encourage employees to move. Inspiration needs to come from the movers and shakers (no pun intended). Presidents, directors and senior managers are not exempt. Here are some easy suggestions for everyone to try.

Stand up
Whenever the opportunity presents itself, stand up. Pace while you are on the phone. Deliver a message in person instead of sending an e-mail. Get your own coffee. Stand up to greet anyone who comes to your door. Find any excuse you can to get up from your chair. Short of setting an alarm on your computer every 15 minutes, try standing up every time the phone rings. This will give your body the break it needs and likely pay more attention to the person on the other end of the line.

Variety is the spice of life
If you must sit, shift how you sit and where you sit as often as you can. Try creating an alternative place to be while reading or when it is not necessary to be in front of your computer screen. Try sitting on a stability ball for short increments during the day. Sit cross legged in your chair or on the floor occasionally. Perch yourself on a ledge or lean against a wall while reading that memo or while strategizing. Vary your body position as often as possible and be creative about it.

You donít even really need to know what youíre doing or if you are doing it right. Your body knows, just stand up and start moving. Lift your arms overhead and stretch right to left. Separate your feet and twist your spine side to side. Perform gentle head circles. Bend over and let your spine decompress for a minute. Just let your body move in any way.

Take a ďtime outĒ
Once every hour, leave your desk and change the scenery. Walk the hallways, climb the stairwells, go get something that you forgot in your car or perform a random act of kindness like getting something for a co-worker. This will oxygenate your system, give your nervous system a break, make you feel like you have accomplished something and offer a fresh perspective when you return to your desk.

Be mindful
Pay attention to the messages that your body is sending you-honour it instead of ignoring it. Your body is the most precious instrument you possess. Listen to it, feed it, exercise it, rest it (but donít sit) and treat it well. You need it for the rest of your life!

Marla Ericksen is an integrative fitness specialist, exercise rehabilitation therapist and Yoga teacher. She owns and operates Empower ME Yoga in Ottawa. She can be reached at Website:

Dining Out on Business: Maximize the Benefits

Question: As VP, HR, I have been asked to draft guidelines for our employees when taking clients or associates out for a business meal and meeting. Weíve all had some bad experiences over the years. Can you give us some useful tips which we can pass along to our staff?

Answer: Having worked as an image and etiquette consultant for some time now, I can honestly state that this is a problem area for many organizations. The problem lies in the fact that there wasnít much thought or advance planning involved in the process- itís done ďon the flyĒ.

Regardless of the size of the organization, a set of recommendations should be sent to every employee and director.

Here are some tips you can incorporate in your recommendations

Graham Bell
Offer a list of recommended restaurants for breakfast, lunch and supper.
This will alleviate any problem with budget restraints. You as the employer should feel comfortable with any of the venues chosen. You want to select venues that have a variety of menu items to respect dietary requirements such as vegetarian or gluten free. You have also chosen the restaurant because it has a good track record for food and service, and an atmosphere conducive to quiet conversation. Also, include guidelines for wine selection as required.

If you donít want to offer a list of recommended places or the occasion arises when a new restaurant is suggested, make sure that you check out the restaurant ahead of time so you donít encounter any surprises.

Make reservations, especially during busy times of the year, and ask for a quiet table away from any distractions. Make sure the table is free for the full time you expect youíll be diningĖ one and a half to two hours for lunch and at least three hours for an evening meal. You donít want to hear just before ordering coffee, that although you made reservations, the table had been booked for a second sitting and the client was about to appear.

Arrive 15 minutes early and donít touch anything on the table until your guest is present. When your guest arrives, stand, offer to take their coat, and seat them in the best chair at the table, preferable facing the room or a window.

Place the order for beverages and food. If price is not an issue, and you want to encourage your guest to order anything on the menu, you can indicate this by saying something like this: ďIf you like beef, I really enjoyed the filet mignon the last time I was here.Ē If your guest orders a drink, order one for yourself to keep them company. The same thing goes for an appetizer or dessert. If they order an alcoholic drink and you donít wish to imbibe during business hours, without commenting, simply order a soft drink or mocktail.

Use proper dining etiquette. Always remember to keep your mouth closed when chewing, your elbows and forearms off the table, and bring the food to your mouth, not your mouth down to your food. If the discussion over the meal involves business, bring a pad to take notes and offer to share the notes following the meeting with your dinner guests. Be careful not to take out too many business papers at more formal establishments unless you have checked with them first.

Report a problem if serious enough that it affects your guest. Donít complain about the food, the restaurant or the wait staff in the presence of your guest. Inquire if your guest is enjoying their meal and promptly deal with any needs or concerns.

Pace yourself. If your guest eats more slowly than you normally do, pace yourself accordingly. Be aware of your guestís schedule and help bring the meal to a close on time.

Settle the bill. Pay for both meals and retrieve your guestís coat, leaving a tip at the coat check if required.

Catherine Graham Bell, AICI CIP, President of PRIME Impressions, is author of Managing Your Image Potential: Creating Good Impressions Business, a dynamic international trainer, and one of only 13 Certified Image Professionals in Canada. She can be reached at


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