Standing up for workplace health

As Director of Derbyshire Sport, Hayley Lever is leading the effort to get more people in Derbyshire more active. Although she leads an active lifestyle herself, enjoying running and cycling, she is also acutely aware of how work and home commitments can make this hard to achieve. Here she explains how she has made changes to her working day in an effort to tackle this...


Why did you start using a standing desk?
I borrowed a standing desk from an evangelical friend, who had progressed to a treadmill desk! I am concerned about the amount of time I spend sitting, even though I'm a very sporty person. There's a growing amount of evidence that demonstrates that it's just not enough to do a run at the end of the day, or make sure you get your 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Long periods of sitting are dangerous for our health. On an average day at the office, I sit in the car for over two hours, as I commute, then I can easily spend the rest of my day sitting at my desk or in meetings. It's frightening. More than ten sedentary hours in a day. When I get home from a long day at work, I don't feel that it's right to announce to the family that I'm now off for a run! So what to do?

What benefits have you found?
The standing desk is great, as when I arrive in the office, I don't automatically sit back down again. I find that I can easily answer emails and do most of my 'desk-based' work standing up. It took a little bit of getting used to, but now I don't notice it. I feel more alert, and feel that I am more likely to walk around the office to talk to people, as I'm already standing. There is research about how many calories are burnt standing rather than sitting, but for me, that's not the motivation - it's the fear of what happens to the cells in my body, when I'm sitting for hours at a time. I do a lot of running and cycling. I get tightness in my hips and back. I find sitting all day really causes problems.

Hayley at her standing desk

How else do you build activity around the working day?
If I've got a whole day in the office, I plan a 25-30 minute lunchtime run. It's in my calendar. It's an appointment. When a meeting overuns or something gets in the way, I try to prioritise it, and make sure I get out, even if it's a bit after the official 'lunch period'. Culturally, I think modern office workers struggle with this. People feel guilty for taking a proper break, even more so if that break gets nudged past the official 'lunch' period. This has to change.

Greater flexibility in how we work has to benefit our health, as well as make us more productive and effective in our jobs. We don't think twice about the days where there are back to back meetings that go right through the day. We need to try harder to break up our day with active periods, walking meetings, or short breaks away from the desk. If I've already been for a run, then arriving home to a houseful of kids' demands, dinner, washing up and so on - I've already had a bit of time for myself, and can focus on them, without the temptation to head straight back out for a run.

Hayley and colleagues taking part in the #MiddayMile

Do you find it easy to fit this into your working day?
No. It takes a lot of discipline. There are always a million other things I could be doing. I have to prioritise my lunchtime run. Make the commitment public. It's in my calendar. It's an appointment.

The days I struggle are when I'm on the road all day. Yesterday for example – a one-hour commute, two meetings in Ripley, a drive to Derby for two more meetings, a drive to Chesterfield for two more meetings and then a drive home. By this time it was 7.30pm and I hadn't seen the kids at this point. Thankfully with the lighter nights, and better weather, I managed a bit of a walk with my daughter before bed. It wasn't much, but it all helps. Today I will try harder! Where I could improve would be to find a way to build a walk in amongst meetings when I'm out on the road. I shouldn't let my diary get so ridiculously crammed, so I'm eating sandwiches in the car between meetings. I guess I should do what I've always really struggled with, (but many people manage and love)- get up at 5.30am and have a short run before I leave for work. This really would get the day off to a great start.

I do feel that I should set a good example. Derbyshire Sport needs a healthy, active, happy workforce. This is much more likely if people work flexibly and are active during the working day as well as during the evenings and weekends. People need permission to prioritise their wellbeing, and I need to set the tone. That's another motivation for me. Practice what you preach.

Derbyshire Workplace Challenge

To find out more about how you can get more active at work visit