5 Office Exercise Tips

By: Brion O'Connor

A walking meeting is a great way to squeeze exercise into your busy workday.
A walking meeting is a great way to squeeze exercise into your busy workday.

We all lead busy lives. Often, our most hectic times center on work. Whether we have a typical 9-to-5 job, or something less traditional, when our jobs get crazy, they give us one more reason to neglect our fitness. That's especially true if we're sitting behind a desk.

"What I find is people make excuses, and I've heard them all," said Jeremee Norman, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer and performance enhancement specialist and co-owner of B&S Sports Science, in Salem, Mass. "When you have that 9-to-5 [work schedule], unless they wake up early to get in a workout, they're usually tired after work, and they just want to go home and see their family."


However, if we want to be healthy, it's essential to make fitness as much a priority as the job [source: Norman]. Plus, you're likely to have an advocate in your boss, since fit workers are usually more alert and more efficient, which leads to more productivity and a healthier bottom line.

"Time studies show when people do piecework, they're actually more productive when they take a break," said occupational therapist Sherlyn Fenton, an ergonomics expert and owner of Quality Rehabilitation Services [source: Fenton]. "They don't want to take a rest, because they get paid per piece. But they're more productive -- and make more money -- when they actually give their body a bit of a rest."

Or a quick workout. Up next: exercise without the sweat.

1: Need to Work out? No Sweat.

The very term "workout" can be intimidating. It conjures images of dark gyms, barbells, suffering and -- worst of all -- sweat. That's not exactly conducive to the workplace, particularly if you don't have shower facilities. But any time we move, any time we activate our muscles, we're doing something good for our body.

"Just get up and go," ergonomics expert Fenton said [source: Fenton]. "Change your position. Stretch. You don't even need resistance. A longer muscle is a stronger muscle. You need to stretch your neck, stretch your shoulders, stretch your wrists."


Better fitness can be as simple as deep breathing.

"Full inhalations and full exhalations, allowing the breath to expand your body, can really relax you," said PJ O'Clair, a Stott Pilates master instructor trainer and an American Council on Exercise certified trainer.

O'Clair also advocates standing arm swings -- gently rotating the body side to side, using the weight of your arms for momentum -- for increased energy, and seated exercises such as shoulder shrugs, shoulder blade squeezes and knee squeezes to improve posture. None require enormous effort, so you don't have to worry about working up a sweat. But the health benefits are palpable.

Next: Find a friend.

2: Exercise Loves Company

It's difficult to keep in shape on the job when you feel like you have to go it alone. You don't. Just don't be overly selective. A workout partner isn't someone you're competing against -- or even someone who's on the same athletic level. Instead, think of your partner as a teammate who'll force you into doing something. Office workers often make the mistake of putting so much emphasis on their jobs that they ignore their fitness needs. A workout partner helps you keep your workout a priority [source: Norman].

In addition to helping you to stay on schedule, exercise partners at work can be a sounding board -- and a support network. Having a personal trainer is nice, but it can expensive. All you really need is someone to help keep you on track.


"You're accountable to somebody," said Donna Furse, a USA Triathlon certified Level 1 coach, a registered nurse and mother of four [source: Furse]. "You might be busy, or you might be tired, but you're accountable. Having a partner forces you to do the workout."

Again, you don't have to go overboard -- baby steps are OK.

Next: Don't forget to drink.

3: Hydrate or Fry

Water is not only the foundation of life, it's the foundation of good health. A well-hydrated body is like a finely tuned race car. We not only perform better while exercising, but we also perform better at work, since our brains need to be properly hydrated as well.

"Dehydration will make the muscles exhausted, and fatigued, and the whole body has to work harder when it isn't hydrated enough," Pilates instructor O'Clair said [source O'Clair]. "So you're actually stressing your body when you're dehydrated. You won't even necessarily feel it, but it's there. If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated."


While hydrating, make sure you know what you're drinking. Clean, fresh water is ideal most of the time, especially if your workout isn't strenuous. Sports drinks can be beneficial, but in moderation. Avoid drinks that are high in calories, sugar and caffeine.

"I think we all get in a pattern of being chronically dehydrated, starting the day with a cup of coffee," triathlon coach Furse said. "When you drink more fluids, you feel significantly better during the day."

An added bonus is that drinking water will help curb your appetite. And if you are prone to fast-food lunches, many of which are high in sodium, water will help rehydrate your system [source: Norman].

Next: No heavy lifting required.

4: Little Helpers, Big Results

The average office, or even cubicle, has all the basics you need to energize your body and mind. Using your own body weight, you can employ your desk for push-ups and dips, or your chair for tricep dips (careful if the chair has wheels).

Coaches Norman and Furse are big proponents of replacing your desk chair with an inflatable physio ball, if only for part of the day. However, Fenton cautions against using it all day if you're not ready, adding that you want to support -- not fatigue -- your core [source: Fenton].


Elastic resistance bands are another great tool for subtle exercises that can get your blood pumping to your fingertips and your toes. Norman suggests occasional 2-minute exercise breaks that not only split up the workday monotony, but also provide a small dose of activity. Furse uses resistance bands for a host of exercises, including seated bicep curls, standing side bends and side walks.

For people who spend much of the day typing, O'Clair recommends small, 2-pound toning balls for wrist curls and wrist circles. Those subtle exercises will keep the forearm muscles active, preventing the imbalance that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. But avoid squeezable "stress balls" as an exercise tool, since overuse can fatigue the forearms muscles, leaving them susceptible to injury [source: Norman].

Next: stairway to heaven.

5: Walk This Way

Walking is recognized as one of the best all-body workouts available, though its fitness benefits are rarely fully appreciated. Relatively low impact, but incorporating most major muscle groups, walking is a terrific at-work exercise option.

Walk every time it's an option. Instead of driving doorstep to doorstep, consider cycling or strolling part of the way to the office. Park the car farther from the office, or get off the bus a few stops earlier. Instead of e-mailing or phoning an in-house colleague, stroll over to his or her desk. And forego the elevator for the stairs. Meetings, especially brainstorming sessions, can sometimes lend themselves to group walks. If you're worried about unwanted distractions, plan the walk beforehand to get people energized [source: Norman].


Lunch is also another great time for a midday walking workout. We don't need an hour to eat, and a vigorous lunchtime walk will actually help with digestion [source: Norman]. However, a speedy saunter doesn't give us free license to eat whatever we want. Keep an eye on portion size and consider taking lunch around 1 p.m. to avoid an afternoon trip to the vending machine [source: Fenton].

Ready to get started? We have lots more information on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Fenton, Sherlyn. Owner, Quality Rehabilitation Services. Personal interview. (Feb. 28, 2011)
  • Furse, Donna. USA Triathlon certified Level 1 coach and registered nurse. Personal interview. (Feb. 28, 2011)
  • Norman, Jeremee. Co-owner, B&S Sports Science, and the North Shore Boot Camp Company. Personal interview. (Feb. 24, 2011) http://www.bnssportscience.com
  • O'Clair, PJ. Owner, Northeast Pilates and clubXcel in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. Personal interview. (Feb. 28, 2011) http://www.northeastpilates.com