Don't Just Sit There! How to Get Fit at Your Desk
After reading new research about the health hazards of sitting, we came up with nine ways to stay fit at the office.
Squat Before You Sit
We all know sitting for hours leads to weight gain (one study found that obese people sit 2.5 hours more per day than lean folks), but it can also put us at risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and bowel cancer. We asked a few experts to help us make the most of our time at our desks. Shirley Archer, a personal trainer and fitness expert, developed this easy move for her book Fitness 9 to 5: Easy Exercises for the Working Week. Stand about one inch in front of your chair, holding in your abdominals. Squat as if you're going to sit, but just as your backside touches the chair, stand back up and squeeze the glutes. Archer says that doing this for one minute each day will burn approximately 50 calories over the course of a workweek.
Stretch Your Hips While You Type
When we sit at our desks, in our cars or on the train, we fold our legs at the hip and shorten our hip flexors; this leads to stiffness and causes pain in the lower back. To open up the hips, try this discreet stretch: While sitting at your desk with knees bent and feet on the floor, place one ankle on the opposite thigh so that your lower body forms the numeral 4. Exhale as you lean forward over the legs, keeping your back straight. Hold for three deep breaths, then switch legs. Work up to switching legs three times—or as many times as you can during one conference call.
Tone Your Arms in the Ladies' Room
Push-ups are a great way to sneak fitness into the workday. The only equipment they require is a flat surface—and it doesn't need to be horizontal. Archer suggests doing push-ups with your hands on the wall instead of on the floor, which makes them easier. A bathroom stall is a good choice (the end stalls usually have more room, as well as a sturdy floor-to-ceiling side wall). "Many female clients have told me that they've seen noticeable differences in their arms after doing daily push-ups against a wall or on the edge of a sink," Archer says. She advises doing 10 to 15 a day.
Take the Stairs—Even When Sitting at Your Desk
Even pretend climbing has important benefits. Sitting all day can cause poor circulation, says Geralyn Coopersmith, director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute. "The blood pools in your lower extremities, causing the ankles to swell and varicose veins to become more pronounced." (Added to the list of sitting hazards is that it makes us look frumpier.) Coopersmith says moving the muscles in the lower body can help pump the veins to bring blood to the heart, brain and lungs so it can be reoxygenated. "About once an hour, stomp your feet like you're marching in place while seated in your chair," she says. Keep it up for 45 seconds to a minute—or as long as it takes to read an email.
Write Off Injuries with a Lower-Leg Stretch
The vertical advantage we get from high heels has a trade-off. Coopersmith says that heels cause a lack of ankle mobility, which can lead to knee problems. She suggests a move that will stretch the ankle as well as the shin muscles: Extend your leg so the knee is straight but not locked. Imagine that the toe of your right foot is a pencil, and draw the entire alphabet with your foot. Now do the same with your left foot. "Try to do this three to five times each day," says Coopersmith. Instead of the alphabet, you can also trace out the numbers on your expense report.
Reach for the Ceiling As You Reach for Your Career Goals
You know that neck pain between the shoulder blades you get after hunching over your keyboard? "Your body is trying to say, 'This position is bad for you.' And we're not listening," says Coopersmith. She suggests reaching both arms up to the ceiling and arching your back. Bring the arms down and stretch forward, opening the upper back. Do this every 20 minutes, says Coopersmith.
Take a Walk During Your Lunch Break, Coffee Break and Gossip Break
We've heard this advice before, but we didn't realize how crucial it was until a large study earlier this year concluded that remaining sedentary for extended periods of time is bad for your heart. The cardiovascular risks, study authors said, manifest themselves in the form of higher blood pressure and triglycerides, increased body inflammation, and lower levels of "good" cholesterol. The study also found that those who took frequent short breaks had smaller waists and better profiles for sugar and fat metabolism than those who sat for hours. If you think this doesn't apply to you because you work out, research has also shown that a full day of sitting can counteract an hour's worth of intense exercise. Every day, try to squeeze in one 20-minute walk and two 10-minute walks at a moderate pace, which will help you meet exercise guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine
Can't Get Outside? Do Your Cardio in Your Cubicle
The ingenious treadmill desk is probably the most efficient way to burn multiple burritos' worth of calories while you work. For those with less space in their cubicles (or apartments), the portable pedal bike is another "deskercise" machine that's well suited to multitasking. While the bikes sound like something you'd see on an infomercial, they have the potential to help you work off 10 biscotti per week. To test the appeal of the bikes, exercise researchers gave them to full-time workers (mostly women) and tracked their usage. As reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the workers pedaled for an average of 23.4 minutes on the days they used the bike, burning an average of 187 calories per day. This bike from MagneTrainer costs around $150, has a stable base and uses high-grade magnets to create a quiet, smooth ride that won't distract your boss.
Use Your Sit Muscles for Something Besides Sitting
Sitting in a desk chair puts you in an ideal position to practice Kegels. These pelvic floor exercises can improve your ability to reach orgasm, help you master control of your bladder, forestall incontinence and support your pelvic organs. Women's health physical therapists, gynecologists and fitness pros like Coopersmith recommend doing at least three sets of 10 every day.
Get step-by-step instructions for how to do Kegels correctly
Get step-by-step instructions for how to do Kegels correctly
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.