Americans spend a significant amount of their time in the workplace, sitting at a desk. Insufficient exercise is one of the biggest health problems facing the workforce, yet increasingly hectic schedules make finding time for exercise a real challenge.
Getting exercise in during the day can improve cardio fitness and muscle tone, promote weight loss and combat obesity, reduce feelings of depression and stress, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions impacted by a sedentary lifestyle. The good news is that with a little creativity and a few minutes here and there, it is possible to infuse exercise into the workday and improve overall health and fitness.
In addition to low back pain and postural issues, numerous research studies have linked sitting for long periods to increased risk of several significant health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome and even cancer.
Prolonged sitting reduces circulation, compresses the spine and tightens the hip flexor muscles, which can cause low back pain. In addition, this lack of motion can affect blood sugar levels and cholesterol buildup in the arteries.
According to James Levine, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic, the solution is quite simple: Move more and sit less. There is no need to re-engineer your office or home. Just getting up and moving every 60 to 90 minutes for as little as 1 to 3 minutes can counterbalance the negative effects of prolonged sitting. Walking, stretching, body weight exercises (such as chair squats) or any simple leisurely movement has a profound impact, including reduced health risks, burning calories and increased energy.
You schedule meetings, doctor appointments, reminders to pick up the dry cleaning and even date nights, so why not schedule your exercise? Putting reminders on your calendar for workout times and even hourly activity breaks not only blocks off that time for “you time,” but also helps remind you and commit you to adding exercise to your life.
It is so easy to get absorbed in a project or endless volume of emails before realizing that hours have passed and you have not moved from your chair. A simple buzz from your phone can keep you on track for fitness.
Using your speaker phone allows you to stand up from your desk and walk around during conference calls. The extra circulation not only helps your legs, but it can boost mental acuity and creativity. Likewise, stand up and move around the conference room when you are speaking in a meeting. This is extra exercise and it can keep people more engaged with you as their eyes and ears follow you around the room. And if you are anxious when speaking in front of people, standing and moving around can relieve tension and feel less formal. Another option is to meet with a colleague for a walk. Go out to grab coffee and walk your meeting. This is friendly multi-tasking.
Smart phones, fitness apps and the internet make for a portable gym. There are numerous websites and fitness applications that offer short, do-it-anywhere, no-equipment- required exercise videos.
These are great on their own or to supplement your normal exercise routine. Following professionally-led workout videos generally push you to work harder than you might on your own. Additionally, these videos educate you on exercises that you can incorporate into your own routines. Many workouts can be done right at your desk and may even use the desk as exercise equipment.
The more aware you are of exercise, the easier it will be to fit it in. Pedometers and other tracking gadgets give you immediate feedback on how much you are moving during the day. If your daily number looks low, this acts as an incentive to move.
One minute here and five minutes there can add up, improving your fitness and reducing the risk of serious health issues. There also are tools on corporate wellness portals and public sites, such as The President’s Challenge fitness log, where you can log all of your activities--whether walking the stairs, raking the lawn or running a few miles--and earn medals as you achieve thresholds of activity. It may surprise you how many opportunities there are in everyday life to infuse exercise into your day.
Dial back the clock and go old style. Instead of emailing or calling a colleague, walk over and talk in person. It gets you up and moving from your desk, is more personal and in the end, is likely to be more efficient than a back-and-forth email chain. Not to mention, it lessens the potential to send one of those stress-driven reactive emails that you wish you could recall.
Whether you bring lunch, order in or pick it up, be sure to take a few minutes to go for a walk, run an errand or do an exercise class, an online workout video or a few flights of stairs. Something, anything, to get up and moving, away from your desk. The movement will improve your circulation and digestion, and help to relieve stress. It is your time, so use it to do something good for you.
Find opportunities to walk everywhere you go. Walking is great for the heart, the legs and the head. Use the stairs to go between a few floors. Or for high-rise dwellers, get off a few floors early and walk the rest of the way. Climbing stairs improves your cardio fitness and tones the legs and butt.
Whether at the office or at the mall, unless its a polar vortex or a monsoon, park far away so you have to walk. Instead of wasting time and opportunity for calorie-burning steps driving around looking for the perfect parking space, park in the far rows. Not only will you get another few minutes of exercise at the start and end of your workday or shopping expedition, but it gives you time to clear your mind and shift gears to and from work mode.
There is power in numbers. In general, people who have exercise partners are more likely to do their planned workouts. Having others on board helps keep you motivated, provides a source of encouragement, improves adherence and adds a social, fun component to exercise. Start a walking lunch club in your office or invite coworkers to an exercise class. When others see you taking the lead, looking fit and feeling energized, they just might follow.
With a bit of creativity and very little time, you can improve your fitness and overall health during the workday. Embrace the mantra that it only takes a minute to get fit. Infusing more exercise into your workday reduces the risk of serious diseases, combats the effects of prolonged sitting and improves your mental well-being and productivity. If you have a minute, there is no time like now to start.
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