The Workplace Athlete

I have always admired triathletes. They are some of the most-fit people on the planet. It is so popular that there are varying lengths of courses to fit almost any fitness level. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport of triathlon to includes some distance of swimming, biking and running.The sprint is the shortest typically with swims up to 1000M, biking up to 18 miles and a run up to 4 miles. The longest is the ultra with swim distances up to and over 3.2 miles, over 62 miles of biking and over 18 miles of running all in one event. Let’s take a moment to breakdown these events (stay with me).


Let’s Get Started
First we have the swim. This is typically the shortest distance event. Talking to many triathletes over the years I have found this is the event that most dread. It takes some amount of skill to swim and it requires a lot of effort from the whole body. Traditionally the events are held in the open water which adds another degree of difficulty. Sometimes the water is cold and you need a wetsuit. Goggles are a must and fins are prohibited.

Next up is the bike. This is typically the longest mileage portion of the event, but most people enjoy this part the most.  You’re on a mechanical object with wheels and you can coast some on the downhills to get a break, but the uphill portions can be difficult at times.

Running is the last portion of the triathlon. You’re already wore out at this point, but you have to do it. It is slow and tiresome, but energizing when you pass the people that haven’t trained as hard as you.


What does all of this have to do with sitting at a desk at work? Actually, absolutely nothing! I am setting the stage for a new sport, “the workplace triathlon”. One you can, and should, complete every day. You don’t have to train for it and it will not wear you out when your finished. What I am proposing is the sit, stand, walk triathlon for corporate athletes. Let’s break it down.
SIT. Most Americans sit for the majority of the day while at work. We all know the health benefits for sitting long periods of time throughout the day…wait, there are no benefits. It destroys every fiber of your body and then some. It is detrimental not only to your musculoskeletal system, but also to your cardiovascular system. So, like triathlon, we should make this our shortest timed event. Do this as little as possible throughout the day. We also need to consider our after work behavior. In a survey conducted by Ergotron in 2013, they reported that people sit between 1-2 hours to do other activities at home after work. They report people sit on average 13 hours a day, add in your sleep time and you have personalized your sedentary activity hours.

STAND. Just like the bike, this should be the event that you do the most throughout the day. There are several benefits to your musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems when you stand vs. sitting for the majority of the day. In fact, a study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) by Stanford University showed that workers using sit-stand work stations were 78% more likely to report pain free work days, had less discomfort after 15 days and had increased concentration.

The benefits don’t stop with positive health outcomes, you’re brain gets a boost too. Productivity is shown to increase when standing while performing a task (I am standing as I type this). A study published in the journal IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors showed that after one month workers that stood in a call center had 23% more successful calls than seated workers. This benefit increased with time too. At six months those same employees that were in the standing group reported 53% more successful calls. The study also included position monitors and measured time standing and time seated. The standing group sat an average of 1.6 hours less than the seated group. This appears to be fairly minimal time for a big payoff.

WALK. I could write several pages discussing the benefits of walking. The fidget spinner of two years ago was the step counter. People were counting steps and doing their best to reach the magical 10,000 number. We need to continue that practice. I think everyone has heard this before, but it doesn’t hurt to mention the benefits again. Walking is a safe, easy and cheap way to maintain health. Walking has positive benefits for managing heart disease, blood pressure, metabolic disorders (diabetes), and weight. It also helps to strengthen bones, and gets the blood flowing in the legs (sitting can contribute to blood clots). It can also have benefits for posture, balance and coordination as well as having an overall positive impact on mood. Enough? Lets put it all together.


“The workplace triathlon”

Sit: Do this the least amount of time during the day.

Stand: Increase the number of hours you stand at your work station to complete tasks.

Walk: Walk on breaks. Modify your lunch time so you can devote time to walking. Invite your friends and create challenges for each other.

The majority of Americans are corporate athletes. If possible, we need to exhaust every option to change how we perform that sport to have positive impacts on the health of the workforce. Workers get a chance to live healthier, disease free lifestyles and employers gain more productive pain-free employees. In the end, everyone finishes a winner.

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U.S. workplaces have become increasingly sedentary, with resulting negative health effects. Through its Total Worker Health® Program, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends an integrated approach to addressing sedentary work environments. An integrated approach is one that protects workers from work-related injury and illness and helps them advance their overall health and well-being, on and off the job. This document describes organizational practices that can reduce the risks associated with sedentary work.

Using Total Worker Health® Concepts to Reduce the Health Risks from Sedentary Work[PDF – 891 KB]


The most recent Cochrane review of randomized control trials (RCT) involving relief of low back pain using massage was published in 2015. The review examined 25 RCT and found that massage was better than inactivity in the short term for pain relief. They also found that massage was better than active controls in the short and long term for pain relief. Read the full review at the link below.
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Musculoskeletal disorders in the form of overexertion caused sprain and strain injuries along with repetitive motion injuries were responsible for costing employers over $16 billion in 2013 and accounted for 27% of all reported injuries. Some of the most common MSDs include:

  • Epicondylitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Low Back Pain
  • Tendonitis
  • Ligament Sprain
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Muscle Strain
  • Plantar fasciitis

These disorders typically occur over a period of time and may have some noticeable signs and symptoms before they progress to a chronic condition. The typical progression may include the following steps:

  • Exposure to risk factor (overexertion/repetitive motion)
  • Fatigue of the exposed anatomy and limited recovery time
  • Soft tissues reach the limit of sustaining the outside forces
  • Ache or discomfort progresses to a chronic condition

Prevention and early recognition, and quick, appropriate intervention can stop the progression of these disorders to costly conditions. Some steps to take include:

  • Adjust the job to the worker
  • Decrease common motions known to cause injury
  • Educate employees how to recognize MSDs
  • Implement an on-site solution for addressing early signs of MSDs

The Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part I, Patients Experiencing Pain in the General Population

This review of literature regarding the effectiveness of massage therapy for treating pain was overall positive. They found that outcome for pain management using massage was better than sham, no treatment or active treatment. They also found that massage was beneficial for the treatment of anxiety. The authors conclusions based on the evidence in the studies reviewed suggest that massage therapy should be strongly recommended as a pain management option.

Follow the link to read the study.


Click the link to read an interesting NIOSH science blog post regarding carpal tunnel syndrome among poultry workers.


To date, there is little information to assist people interested in purchasing alternative keyboards. While the scientific evidence about whether alternative keyboards prevent musculoskeletal disorders is inconclusive at this time, this document provides basic information about common alternative keyboard designs and their effects on work posture.

Alternative Keyboards[PDF – 471 KB]


European researchers studied the effects of environmental and psychosocial factors and their relationship with musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). The survey was conducted among hospital workers in the UK and they looked at responses relating MSDs to temperature, anxiety, depression, light and noise, and job demand. The most interesting finding from the study was that MSDs of the upper extremity were strongly related to job strain and temperature.

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This document is a joint effort between NIOSH and the Canadian Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD).

The purpose of this document is to help practitioners assess working posture for the prevention and control of occupational musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Read more

Warming up before activity is important, especially for those performing strenuous or repetitive jobs.

We have all heard about stretching before or after activity, or as a way to break up repetitive tasks, but should we warm-up? Warming up has been shown to be effective in helping reduce overexertion which can cause sprains and strains of the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Warming up does this by: Read more