Staying Healthy in an Office Environment: Fighting Desk-Job Body Syndrome

It’s not exactly news that there’s an obesity epidemic in the United States. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 35.7% of adults in the U.S. were obese between 2009 and 2010. Mark Huffman, an assistant professor of preventative medicine and cardiology at Northwestern University, projects that this percentage will rise to about 43% in 2020.

There are many factors that contribute to an unhealthy weight, but the bottom line is that overweight and obese people consume more calories than they use to perform their daily activities. For most adults, these daily activities are performed at work and compose the majority of their waking hours. In a recent study conducted at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, scientists found that the decrease in physical activity in the workplace over the past 50 years is a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic. So for office workers like myself, who sit at a desk for most of the day, losing excess weight or even maintaining a healthy weight is an exceptional challenge.

CompassLearning's bike rack

When CompassLearning hired me about two years ago, I was accustomed to a regular workout routine and was able to balance work and life fairly well. But between the steep learning curve that comes with a new, fast-paced job and the long hours required to keep up with an aggressive production schedule, I found myself facing a sudden imbalance between work and life. The effort I had once put toward regular exercise quickly shifted to the work side of the scale, and I gained about 15 pounds in under a year. Seemingly overnight, I went from having a very active lifestyle to a highly sedentary one. After a year of this, I knew it was time to re-balance the scale.

One of my first changes was to balance my energy input by reducing my portion sizes and the frequency with which I consumed cheese and eggs, both of which are high-protein yet high-fat food items. I normally stick to beneficial foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, so I was already on the right track with eating the right types of foods. I was just consuming too much of them.

Now, keep in mind that this energy input needs to be balanced with energy output. If you work in an office environment, this can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. It helps significantly when your place of employment encourages its employees to be active. For example, some employees at CompassLearning (CL) routinely walk a quick mile on the streets of downtown Austin twice a day. CL supports this effort, and it also incentivizes alternative transportation to and from work by reimbursing employees $60 a month for turning in their parking passes. Thus, many CL employees choose to bike to and from work instead of driving. This option is further supported by the showering facilities that CL makes available to its employees.

In addition, a number of employees have been taking advantage of group fitness classes offered by Jacob Wood of Organic Fitness and Training (OFAT). He leads one-hour sessions, conveniently at our place of employment, before and after work hours. Loyal OFAT trainee Laurie Nissen says, “I hate to miss a class! It is hard not to be dedicated when you have the convenience of a professional personal trainer in your office.” Participants can choose to take part in morning or afternoon classes two to three days a week. “There’s no going back for me; resistance training will surely be a part of my life twice a week at least,” added another enthusiastic OFAT trainee.

Afternoon OFAT Session

Recently, CompassLearning agreed to subsidize the cost of Jacob’s training fees for its employees. This rate reduction has encouraged many new participants like Adrienne Albregts to join. She shares, “Jacob’s class made me realize that no matter how good of shape you think you’re in, there’s always room for improvement. I come from a family affected by both heart disease and cancer, so every hour I sweat in Jacob’s class is an extra hour of improved health.” The rate reduction has also encouraged several former participants like Martin Rodriguez to return to the classes. He says that he’s “glad to have access to such a knowledgeable and inspirational trainer. [Jacob’s] classes have improved my core strength that has resulted in better overall posture throughout the day.” I personally have been encouraged by the rate reduction and have advanced from participating two days a week to three. Another committed OFAT participant, Nancy Sherman, exclaims, “I love the class and am so glad that Compass is helping, and that makes it even better. It is a win-win situation all around.”

Morning OFAT Session

It’s a “win-win” because healthy employees make more productive employees, and they also save a business money by keeping healthcare costs low. So if your place of business pays for healthcare, there’s a financial incentive for them to keep employees eating right and exercising. The University of Michigan Health Management Research Center estimates that an organization saves $153 annually when a high-risk employee’s health risks are reduced and $350 annually when a low-risk employee remains low.

Low-risk employee and faithful OFAT trainee Sofia Milton shares what it means to her to train with Jacob after work:  “It’s a full-body workout, and I feel amazing after each class, physically and mentally. His classes are fun, and I enjoy working out with both my coworkers and friends! Working out with Jacob has motivated me to eat healthier and really try to balance my exercise and diet!”

And I couldn’t agree more. Thanks to these group classes, I’ve just started to be able to get back into some pre-desk-job clothes! The pounds are slowly dropping: I’m burning more calories than I’m taking in. I’m thankful for CompassLearning’s support, Jacob’s training, and the camaraderie that exists between those of us who bust our butts every other day to fight desk-job body syndrome (DJBS).

What are you doing to stay active during the workday?  How is your employer helping you to stay in shape?  Share your comments below. 

Helpful Resources:

Office Exercises

Achieving a Healthy Weight

Related posts:

Less Active at Work, Americans Have Packed on Pounds

Sitting Is Bad for You: What Can You Do About It at Work?


  • Reply April 17, 2012


    Thanks for the great post, Alina! Like you, I’ve been a desk jockey for 4.5 years now…and my fitness level has taken a toll. Having the OFAT classes has been so helpful, convenient and fun. Plus, it makes me feel good to work for a company that values employee health and wellness. Thanks again for bringing up such an important issue!

  • Reply April 17, 2012

    Chris Castillo

    I attend Jacob’s training sessions on M-W-F. I bore easily when it comes to exercise, so I Iove that Jacob changes it up every time we meet. We never know what we’re in for, but are always glad we came! I remember when we first started, I could not do a plank to save my life! Now I can do side planks as well… not perfectly, but I’m working on it! I think it is fabulous that the company has started subsidizing the classes. I invite more people to join us! It has been fun working towards our fitness goals with our colleagues. Everyone supports each other!

  • Reply April 17, 2012

    George Rislov

    • Reply April 18, 2012

      Emily Breedlove

      I agree… fighting the bulgy battle is so difficult, given our environment. It takes a serious effort to forego the temptations that assault us all the time. Survival in a cube farm is far different from survival on the savannah, when having extra energy stores is what could mark the difference between eating lunch tomorrow and being lunch today. Today, however, we fight monsters that are much less fast-moving, like diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, chronic pain… not to mention the stigma attached to being a bigger person. It’s an uphill battle, assaulted by media that tell us to grab huge, salty, sugary, nutrition-light, junk-heavy “food” — while at the same time maintaining an impossible, Photoshopped physique. Every bit of support helps. We CAN put ourselves before the onslaught, but sometimes it takes a village…. or an office… to raise a healthy, fit person.

  • Reply April 18, 2012

    Emily Breedlove

    I love Jacob’s classes. As a yoga instructor and fitness jockey, I can attest to the fact that he’s right on the money.

    I also agree that the workplace is not friendly to weight loss or maintenance. With the influx of questionable food choices, like donuts, cookies, cake, chips, and so on, it’s truly difficult for some people to feel supported in their efforts to live healthier lives. I was fortunate enough to have Weight Watchers at work in 2003-2004, when I lived in New Jersey. I lost 100 pounds in about a year and a half and gained some of that back after moving to Austin, getting happy, and getting lax with the practices that had helped me lose before. Again, I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of Weight Watchers at work at CompassLearning, and I lost all I’d regained, and then some. I decided to take the plunge and become a leader myself, because I know how much the program can change people’s lives for the better,

    Kudos to CompassLearning for supporting health!!

  • Reply April 19, 2012

    Nancy Sherman

    I have always been an active person playing sports when I was young and even as I an adult with a job, family and a busy life. Exercise has always been something I craved and was probably obsessed with maybe just a little too much. But as I aged it seemed to be something that I had to do every day. Now I know why. I found out just five years ago that I have a heart defect from birth and thankfully my lifelong exercise was needed to prolong open heart surgery. I know how hard it is to stay committed to eating right and exercising. And as we age it is even harder.
    Staying fit during your younger years may seem nearly impossible due to a busy schedule of work and home. But as you age it becomes even harder to stay fit because your life continues to remain busy and your metabolism slows. A slowing metabolism can wreak havoc on your fitness goals and it can cause you to gain unwanted weight. Also waiting to start exercising and eating properly can bring on the early onset of chronic diseases that will hinder your exercise program. These diseases are really a result of bad eating habits and not exercising. Heart disease is at the top of the list. And it has a nasty habit of creeping up on us as we age until it is really too late. On my last visit to my Cardiologist he applauded me for sticking with Jacob, walking and trying to stay healthy. He commented that he wished all of his patients were like me.
    The bottom line is that for me all of this is hard and it will not get any easier but for me the choice of early surgery or putting it off as long as I can is my reward.
    I urge everyone to take your health serious and know that when you get older you will want that quality of life that gives you the freedom to do what you want and not be confined in any way because of your health problems.
    Jacob makes exercise challenging and fun and once the class is over you feel rewarded with less feelings of stress and your tiredness is exhilarating. If you have been thinking about joining don’t wait do it now. You will not regret it.

    • Reply April 19, 2012

      Cassidy V

      “I urge everyone to take your health serious and know that when you get older you will want that quality of life that gives you the freedom to do what you want and not be confined in any way because of your health problems.”

      Well said Nancy! There are many health problems in my family and OFAT is a convenient way to stay fit & it fits into my busy schedule! Since joining OFAT, I have prioritized fitness and health for the exact reasons you just mentioned. It’s great that we work for a company that supports active lifestyles. Thank you CompassLearning!

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