Working 40 hours a week—or more—isn’t unusual. But being tied to your desk can have devastating health effects. In fact, a mounting body of research suggests that sitting for 7 to 8 hours a day increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and yes, early death—even among people who exercise regularly.
One of the nice things about being an athletic trainer is that we’re constantly on the move. I don’t even have an office! But what if you have a standard desk job? I’ve thought a lot about that for my patients’ sake, and it turns out that it’s still possible to build physical activity into your daily routine. All it takes is a shift in your mindset and a commitment to step away from your desk with the help of these 7 tips:
- Schedule breaks. Set an alarm to remind yourself to move at least every 30 minutes. This could include taking a walk around the building, getting up and stretching or even doing a series of 20 jumping jacks (and recruit your co-workers to join you). Whether you use an app, a computerized reminder or even a standard egg timer, make it a point to get moving.
- Stretch at your desk. If you work at a desk for hours on end, stretching is essential. Roll your neck, shrug your shoulders and reach for the ceiling while wiggling your fingers. Look to the left and pause for a few seconds, then come to the center and pause, then look to the right and pause some more. Tilt your head to your right shoulder (like you’re clutching a phone), hold it for 10 seconds and then switch sides. Then, clasp your hands behind your back and pull to stretch out your shoulders. Give your lower half some TLC, too! Stand at your workstation and bend at the hips to touch your toes, or bring your heel toward your butt and grab your ankle to stretch your quads. No matter which stretches you choose, move in a way that feels good to you. (Check out this short video on workstation stretching.)
- Swap your chair for a stability ball. Sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair engages your core muscles and encourages better posture. Sitting upright, without arm or back rests tones your tummy while you work, too. It also promotes balance and flexibility. Take advantage of breaks, too. For instance, you can recline back on the ball and perform a quick set of crunches during a 15-minute work break.
- Take a walk. Instead of emailing, texting or phoning a colleague, walk over to his or her office. Participating in a conference call? Stand up and pace. Have a package for interoffice delivery? Walk it to where it needs to go yourself. Taking the time to run office errands personally will not only help you stay active during your work day, it may also boost your creativity (think: all that extra blood flow to your brain).
- Maximize your lunch break. Instead of sitting during lunch, divide your break in half. Use half the time to eat (mindfully) and the other half to squeeze in some fitness. Walk in the parking lot, do squats in the break room or climb up and down the stairs a few times. Anything that gets your heart pumping will benefit both your body and mind. And here’s a bonus: The change of scenery and boost in activity may up your work productivity, too.
- Walk or bike to work. Since weather in Michigan is finally warming up, why not bike or walk to work? If you live too far away, consider parking at the farthest space in the parking lot or taking a few laps around the building and climbing the stairs to get to your office. But what if you work from home? Start and finish your day with a 15-minute walk through your neighborhood.
- Invest in a step tracker. Wearing a step tracker can be remarkably motivating. I encourage my patients to continuously increase the number of steps they take daily. To do this, they come up with a goal for the number of steps they want to shoot for each day, track their progress with their step tracker and if they don’t meet their goal, I encourage them to walk or run when they get home.
With busy work days and at-home responsibilities, finding time to exercise can be challenging. But once you see that squeezing in fitness doesn’t have to mean spending 60 to 90 minutes at the gym, the options are endless.