Thwart on-the-job inactivity and stay healthy this New Year by making exercise a part of your workday.
By Eric Schneider | Edited by Amanda Mauceri
Is your New Year’s resolution to stay fit and exercise more? If so, you’re among thousands of Americans who start the New Year off by making this promise to themselves. It can be, however, a tough promise to keep in practice between long work hours and busy schedules. All too often, exercise becomes difficult to pencil in, and after a few months into the year, we’ve given up before ever really getting started.
One way to help keep yourself committed to a healthier lifestyle is to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Instead of getting up earlier or hitting the gym immediately after work, consider taking some time out during the day for getting out of your chair and getting active. It’s easier than you think.
A century ago, the concept of “work” typically meant manual labor on a farm or in a factory. And while that’s still true for some workers today, most of us earn a living seated in front of a screen. A recent study conducted at the Work & Health Research Centre of Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England concluded that, on average, people sit for more than five hours and 40 minutes per workday. That’s a considerable amount of time for one to spend off of their feet.
Some ways for adding motion to your workweek, aside from going to a gym, would be finding even brief moments of activity during the day. “Having a positive attitude and seeking out small chances to squeeze in more movement can make a difference between an inactive and an active lifestyle,” says Shirley Archer, author of Fitness 9 to 5: Easy Exercises for the Working Week (Chronicle Books).
Both Archer and David Geier, MD (who is Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Director of Sports Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston) agree that simple alterations to normal routines can make a big difference. These include:
- Parking further away from the office
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
- Going to coworkers’ desks or offices to have discussions rather than sending emails
Though it may seem unlikely, your office can essentially become your gym. Archer explains, “The stairwell is a ‘bun blaster.’ The sink in the restroom is a perfect place to do some quick push-ups. You can even stretch while seated at your desk. It simply takes the mindset to see the chances to move more.”
“The stairwell is a ‘bun blaster.”
Archer suggests the “cat stretch” as a way to work out the kinks. To perform this exercise:
- Sit upright near the edge of your chair with your feet on the floor, heels in line with your knees.
- Place your palms on the top of your thighs.
- Inhale, and lengthen your spine.
- Exhale, rounding your back like an arching cat, and pull your stomach in toward your spine.
- Relax, and let the weight of your head stretch your neck.
- Inhale deeply, and sit up tall.
- Repeat three to five times.
Another exercise consists of turning the basic motion of sitting down into a series of squats. “Every time you go to sit in your desk chair, instead of allowing your hips to touch the seat, return to standing and repeat 10 times,” Archer says. “Repeat this all day every time you return your desk to sit down. Those squats will add up. This is a fantastic functional move to keep your legs, hips and thighs strong.”
Geier notes that other basic activities, such as push-ups and sit-ups, can be performed without equipment and in relatively small office spaces. And, if you favor dumbbells, bicep and tricep curls can become a part of your daily workplace rituals.
To reinforce any office exercise routines you start, get friends and coworkers involved. For example, start a regular lunchtime walking group. “Try to be around other healthy people and make the environment you are immersed in for eight to 12 hours a day a healthy one,” Geier says. “Have photos of people exercising visible. Schedule automatic reminders encouraging you to do short periods of exercise throughout the day.”
Adds Archer, “Concentrate on increasing your mindful awareness of those habitual decisions you make without thinking, such as having an extra cup of coffee with sugar, when simply walking briskly around the office or up and down the stairs will also get your energy moving.”
When it comes to exercise in the office, it’s the little things that make a difference. As Archer states, “The bottom line is that health is something we create each day with the small choices that we make.”