We used to get a lot more exercise as a natural part of our day. As hunter-gatherers, our survival depended on physical fitness, and we literally worked for our food. While plenty of jobs still require physical exertion -- the UPS person picks up a lot of heavy boxes in one day -- most use technology to do the heavy lifting. Since our bodies don't evolve as quickly as technology, obesity rates are climbing as we become more tied to our desks.
Physical activity is so important to health that it's at the top of the list, along with diet and prescription drugs, for prevention and treatment of many medical conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. Exercise makes your heart and bones stronger (not to mention your muscles), lowers your blood pressure and relieves stress. Regular physical activity can help you live longer [source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]. And, frankly, being fit makes you more attractive. Chalk it up to the natural glow that exercise imparts by increasing blood flow to all parts of your body.
These days, we have to work to fit exercise into our busy schedules. Alas, the exercise our fingers get from typing, clicking a mouse and texting is not enough. Since we can't all fit in an hour at the gym every day, here are five easy exercises you can do at (or near) your desk.
Lift the Weight Off Your Shoulders
The shoulders are the part of the body where most people hold all their tension. For some reason, we think that the tighter we hold these muscles, the faster we'll work. Unfortunately, holding the shoulders in one position for a long time can compress nerves and impair circulation.
This exercise strengthens and loosens these muscles, all the better to hold up that hard-working noggin. Add some weight by holding a full water bottle in each hand, or use small hand weights. This exercise works best in a chair that has no armrests.
- Sit up in your chair, back straight and abdominal muscles contracted.
- Lift your arms out to the sides until they're parallel to the floor. Hold for 3 seconds. Lower arms.
- Lift your arms out to the front until they're parallel to the floor. Hold for 3 seconds. Lower arms.
- Repeat eight to 10 times.
Strengthen Your Backside
Here's a stealth exercise that you can do even when you're teleconferencing. Sit up straight in your chair, tighten your buttocks, hold for a few seconds and then release. Repeat eight to 10 times -- or as often as you can get away with it.
Take a cue from yoga and be an office warrior. The Warrior III pose (or Virabhadrasana in Sanskrit) strengthens hamstrings, glutes and back muscles -- the muscles that get the least exercise when you're sitting in a chair all day. This variation of Warrior III is easy to do in the office, but you'll need a little space both in front of and behind you.
- Stand with your feet directly under your hips. Keep your back straight and abdominal muscles tucked.
- Stretch your arms overhead, keeping your shoulders relaxed and your ears in line with your arms. (Don't stick your chin out.)
- Slowly lean forward while lifting your right leg straight out behind you. Hold for three to five seconds. Lower your leg as you straighten up to standing.
- Repeat with your left leg.
- Repeat the exercise three to five times for each leg.
If balancing is difficult for you, keep one hand on the desk or wall during the exercise.
Forget expensive exercise equipment and fussy props. A wall is all you need for this exercise. Doing a push-up against the wall is not as hard as a regular push-up, but it still gives your biceps, triceps and pectorals a little workout. Contracting your abdominals and back muscles during the exercise helps strengthen your core muscles.
To make the push-ups harder, move your feet farther away from the wall, or do them on the edge of your desk.
- Stand facing the wall, feet shoulder-width apart and about one foot (0.3 meter) from the wall.
- Place your palms on the wall at about shoulder height.
- Keeping your legs and back straight, bend your elbows and lean toward the wall as far as possible.
- Push yourself away from the wall to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 to 20 times.
Having strong abdominal muscles isn't just about looking good at the beach. There's a reason why your abs are referred to as "core" muscles. They're the fulcrum around which your body works. They help you sit up, bend over, lift your legs and twist your body.
At the office, all these functions are crucial. Without them, you couldn't bend over to pick up a paper clip from the floor or twist in your chair to pull a file from the drawer. Most importantly, your abs hold you upright in a sitting position. Without them, you'd have to be strapped into your chair or you'd slump over onto your desk. So take good care of them by doing these ab curls once a day.
- Sit up straight in a stable chair without wheels. Contract your abdominal muscles.
- Cross your arms over your chest and curl forward.
- Hold for 3 seconds.
- Repeat 10 to 20 times.
Walk and Talk
Walking is a great way to exercise because it's safe, easy and cheap. And you don't need to set a brisk pace to reap the benefits. A study by the Mayo Clinic showed that leaner people were more likely than heavy people to get up and move around throughout the day, even if they weren't necessarily exercising. The difference in calories burned per day between the two types of people was about 350 calories. If you tend to be more sedentary, this information might motivate you to find ways to be more active throughout the day.
For instance, why sit down to talk on the phone when you could be burning calories and toning leg muscles? Use your speakerphone, or a headset, so that you can move freely around the office during long conference calls. If you get writer's block in the middle of preparing the budget report, get up and pace until your mind clears. Drink a lot of water during the day so you have to get up and go to the bathroom at least once an hour.
Any excuse you can think of to get yourself out of the chair and on your feet is a good excuse -- as long as it's work-related, of course!
Is exercising at work widely accepted? Visit Discovery Fit & Health to learn if exercising at work is widely accepted.
- Burchell, Andrew. "5 Office Exercises." AskMen.com. (Feb. 16, 2011)http://www.askmen.com/sports/bodybuilding_400/412_5-office-exercises.html
- Connecticut Department of Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health Assessment Program. "Fact Sheet: Office Work and Cumulative Trauma Disorders." November 2008. (Feb. 14, 2011)http://www.ct.gov/dph/lib/dph/environmental_health/eoha/pdf/office_work_&_ctds_fact_sheet.pdf
- LiveSmarter. "20 Simple At Your Desk Exercises for Web Workers." 2008. (Feb. 17, 2011)http://www.ondd.org/20-simple-at-your-desk-exercises-for-web-workers/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans." October 2008. (Feb. 16, 2011)http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf
- University of Arkansas, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. "Office Exercises." (Feb. 14, 2011)http://www.uaex.edu/depts/FCS/EFNEP/Lessons/getup_getmovin/office_exercises.pdf
- Weil, Andrew, M.D. "Just Move More to Lose Weight?" Nov.11, 2005. (Feb. 24, 2011)http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA359909
- Yoga Journal. "Warrior III Pose." (Feb. 15, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/941