Can I work out in this outfit? When theres a will theres a way…
Stand Up For Office Health. Caroline’s tips on working world Wellness.
Perfect posture or not, putting in too much time in the office chair is dangerous. But these days many of us are pulling crazy hours at work and our health is paying for it. Is it really possible to stay fit when your workday starts early, ends late, and you’re squeezing family time and other priorities in around the edges?
IT IS. Getting and staying fit requires a lot less time than most people think. Even a few 5- to 15-minute activity sessions into each work day can make a huge difference in your energy, mood and fitness. The secret lies in using every possible opportunity to move, stretch and strengthen. And the longer your workdays, the more crucial it becomes to squeeze in breaks for movement. Even the little breaks you take will pay you back in terms of increased productivity, energy, and positivity even if that break only lasts a few minutes.
Here’s how your entire body takes a beating from the office chair and what you can do about it. Take a stand for your health and make your working world support your wellbeing success.
Desk Effects. How Sitting hurts you.
Neck: As you sit (especially if you hunch forward to read, or turn your head at an angle as you look at a computer screen or reference materials), your neck, shoulder and upper-back muscles get tense and tight. This can cause everything from headaches to neck pain and shoulder discomfort. Over time, microscopic tears and scar tissue can form in these muscles, restricting blood flow to the back of your head and causing chronic tension headaches.
Lower back: Sitting puts up to twice the pressure on your spine and lower back than standing does. This tightens your lower-back muscles. And that happens even if you sit with good posture. Your spine should resemble an S shape, but slouching forward as you work at a computer usually brings it into more of a C shape. This puts even more pressure on your lower back and spine, raising your risk for disc herniation, degenerative bone spurs and more, all of which can cause shooting, tingling pain in your limbs and buttocks.
Legs: The pressure created by having your buttocks and thighs against the seat for hours on end disrupts the blood flow to and from your lower extremities. Not only does this create that “my legs and feet are asleep” sensation, but it also can trigger potentially deadly blood clots to form and slowly starve your leg muscles and joints. Your body is a lot like a sponge, when you squeeze a sponge, old water flows out. When you stop squeezing, new water flows in. If you stop squeezing, old water stays put. In the same way, muscles, ligaments, tendons and cartilage act like sponges, so sitting in one spot for too long may reduce blood flow and nutrition to them.
The antidote to the desk effects? Take a break every 20 to 30 minutes, even if all you do is stand up, stretch, march in place and then sit back down. Here are my quick fix movement breaks to beat office aches, boost energy, keep active at work, and fight back against the dangerous effects of the desk.
Caroline’s Quick Fix Stretch Break: Simple exercises to beat the Office Aches
Counteract poor posture and office-chair fatigue by performing these simple office stretches. Do them on an hourly basis, or whenever your body needs a break.
1. Sit tall, bringing your bellybutton toward your spine. This will strengthen your abdominal muscles, which will help you sit with proper posture. Try to sit this way all day long.
2. Pull your shoulders up, back and down. This will strengthen your upper back, counteracting that forward slump and prevent headache and neck tension that comes from working at the computer. When you do this, pretend you’re holding an orange between your shoulder blades and that you’re trying to squeeze juice out of the orange. Hold for a count of five, release and repeat 10 times.
3. Grab one knee, pull it to your chest, and hold 20 seconds. Repeat with the other knee. This will help to release tension in your lower back.
4. Stretch your neck, which can get tight, especially if you allow it to jut forward as you work at the computer. Bring your right ear toward your right shoulder. Hold 20 seconds, then repeat on the left. Rotate side to side, too. Finish by resting your head on the back of your office chair for 20 seconds to stretch the front of your neck.
5. Stand in your office doorway. Place your hands on the frame at shoulder height. Lean through the doorway to stretch the front of your shoulders. Hold 20 seconds. This stretches your chest and shoulders, both of which tend to tighten up from lots of sitting.
You might also want to consider adopting an intermittent strength-training routine that you can do over the course of your work day, turning out a series of different body-weight exercises whenever you have a one- or two-minute break. Or, you can schedule two 10-minute activity breaks into your day, taking advantage of those low-energy moments when you tend to get distracted and lose steam (or feel tempted to hit the vending machines).
Here are my suggestions for exercises you can do at the office. They build strength without getting you too sweaty, and can be done all at one time or divided into single-exercise intervals.
Caroline’s Quick Fix Strength Break: Simple Exercises to Boost Office Energy.
Chair pose: This move helps to reverse the forward slump that’s so common with desk sitting. It also works your core, lower and upper back, hamstrings, and glutes. Stand with your feet 6 inches apart. Bend your knees slightly and push your rear backward, as if you were sitting back into a chair. Lift your arms overhead as high as possible. Keep your body weight over your heels. Hold for 30 seconds.
Seated Side Core with Back Stretch. Sitting tall on your desk chair, reach one arm above your head to the side. Pull arm back towards torso and crunch. Repeat 12 times on one side then switch to the other side. Once you have gone through a single set on both sides, lace fingers in front of you and round the spine to stretch through your back and shoulders. 2-3 sets of 12-16 reps.
Office Lunge. Standing tall step one leg behind you and bring front leg to 90 degree angle watching that knee stays behind the toe. Bring legs back together and repeat with the other leg. Challenge yourself by adding a torso rotation or raising arms above your head as you lunge. Or work your balance by doing the lunges on one leg and adding a knee raise. 12-20 reps per leg for 2-3 sets.
Abs on a Chair. Sit on the edge of the chair, holding on with hands, sitting up, knees bent at 90 degree angle. Controlling the movement with the abs, lean back, straighten legs, and return to start position. Intensity option: Try not to use hands to pull you up. Do 12-20 for 2-3 sets.
Chair Touch Squat. While sitting, lift up until your hips are just hovering over the chair, arms out for balance. Hold for 2-3 seconds, stand all the way up and repeat. Add single/double arm shoulder roll. Add knee raise. Add twist. Or try the squat with one leg for more challenge. 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps.
Warrior pose: Stand and step forward into a lunge, sinking down until your forward thigh is parallel to the floor. Raise your arms overhead. Reach back through your rear heel and forward through your front knee. Hold 30 seconds. Follow up with some other favorite yoga poses.
Desk Pushup: Stand a yard or more away from your desk, with your feet together. Place your palms on the edge of the desk a shoulder’s width apart. Lower your chest to the edge of the desk, and push back up. Remember to exhale on the way up. Do 20 times.
Chair Bicycle Crunch. Sit on the edge of the chair and lean your torso backwards until you feel your abs engage. Extend your legs and slowly bicycle one leg at a time for 30 seconds. Rest and repeat – just as easy as riding a bike!
Can’t find even five minutes for fitness during your hectic day? Try a healthy version of multitasking:
Caroline’s Quick Fix Movement Breaks:Simple Exercises to Keep Active at Work.
While on the phone:
- Use a hands-free headset so you can stand and move around as you talk.
- Step up and down on a stair or step stool.
- Do a wall sit.
- Stretch your calves, quads, wrists, neck, any body part that needs a little blood flow.
At the copier:
- Do shoulder-blade pulls. These will strengthen your upper back and combat the forward slump that comes from working at a desk. Straighten your back with your head up, inhale and pull your shoulder blades together, holding to the count of five. Release and exhale, and repeat 12 times. Do three or four sets.
- Practice optimal posture. Stand as straight as you can, lift your head, drop your shoulders downward and pull your bellybutton in toward your spine. Breathing deeply, maintain this at-attention posture until your copy job is complete.
- Do calf raises. Place your hands on the copier for balance. Lift one foot off the floor. Rise onto the ball of your standing foot. Hold for a count of five. Lower and repeat 15 times. Then switch legs.
- Do “ballerina butt lifts”. Standing with your heels together toes apart, lift one leg behind you 20 times with good posture. Switch legs and repeat engaging your glutes.
During a meeting:
- While seated, focus on drawing in the deep abdominals as if you’re zipping into tight pants. This strengthens the transverse abdominus, an important muscle that helps support your back and reduces your vulnerability to backaches.
- Stretch your forearms. This helps to counteract the tightness that comes from typing and mousing. Hold your right arm in front of you, your hand flexed as if you were telling someone to “talk to the hand.” Use your left hand to gently pull back on your fingertips. Hold for 30 seconds. Release and repeat, this time with your fingers facing down to stretch the top of your forearm. Then repeat with the other arm.
While working at your desk:
- Place a small-to-medium ball (roughly the size of a kid’s soccer ball) between your knees and squeeze. Hold five to seven seconds, release slightly (without dropping the ball), and repeat until muscles are fatigued.
- Once or twice a day, swap your desk chair for a fitness ball. Build your ball-perching time from 10 minutes to an hour. The ball will force you to sit with proper posture as well as give you a mild core workout as you shift around to stay balanced. You can also use the ball to stretch and strengthen your body. Periodically relax your back over the ball and rest your arms out to the sides to stretch your chest, which gets tight from typing and
- Do chair curls. To strengthen your hamstrings, sit on the edge of a rolling chair. Extend your legs, but keep your feet flat on the floor. Then slowly bend your legs as you pull the chair in. Roll the chair backward again and repeat 10 to 15 times.
Finding ways to work fitness into your workday is as beneficial for your productivity as it is for you. On the days you can manage to hit the gym, you may not need all these bite-size exercise breaks as urgently. But on the days when making space for a full-size serving of fitness is all but impossible, these mini-workouts are both your body’s best defense and your schedule’s best friend.
Take a stand for your health and make movement your working world habit. Don’t worry about what other coworkers might think and don’t buy into the idea that you’re too busy. You control your work-life health and can create an environment that is supportive of your wellness goals (not to mention inspire others to move more at work!). Take charge and cultivate more energy by moving more during your work days – fuel your life with health both in the office and out!
Does your work support your health and wellness goals? How do you stay active at the office? Leave your thoughts and suggestions as a comment below, together we can work towards building awareness and creating a corporate culture of health!
Hope these tips help you feel your best in your working world. Thanks for being a part of my community of health! Looking forward to seeing you soon… till next time, keep shining!
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