How to to Stay Fit at the Office
The 9-to-5 slog isn’t always conducive to a healthy lifestyle. But if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, it’s even more important to find ways to incorporate fitness into your routine.
Official guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that adults should “move more and sit less throughout the day” and aim for at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for better quality of life and a reduced risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
But even the fittest of folks admit that it’s not always easy. “Staying fit can be challenging even if you have time on your side, so if you’re stuck in the office for most of the day it can seem like a forever impossible feat,” says Rachael Finch, certified trainer and creator of Body By Finch.
However, there are lots of ways to embrace fitness at the office. With a little creativity, forward planning, dedication and willpower, you can get — and stay — fit while doing your regular 9-to-5.
Set Your Alarm
Yes, you could give yourself an early alarm call and squeeze in a workout before you get to work, but you can also use your alarm multiple times during your workday to remind yourself to get up and move. “Short bursts of movement are very beneficial, not just for your body but for your brain, too,” Lisa Williams, certified personal trainer, and CEO of TravelTrim, said.
Don’t rule out the early morning alarm call completely, though. If you give yourself more time before work, you can park your car a little farther from the office than you need to and slot a brisk walk into your routine.
Ditch Your Chair
If you feel like your office chair is weighing you down, maybe it’s time to opt for something a lot more lightweight — and fun.
“Sitting on a Swiss ball is a smart way to help build core strength and work on your balance without realizing,” Finch said. “You’ll also be improving posture and stability.” Another alternative to the traditional office chair is a standing desk, which is better for your circulation and posture. And you don’t have to shell out a huge amount of money on a fancy standing desk (or ask your office manager to). “If I’m working from home, I create a standing desk by setting my laptop up on the kitchen bench,” Finch said. “I notice my ideas and creativity flow better.”
Abide by the 2:10 Rule
A great way to keep your mind and body fresh, focused and full of creative ideas is to break your work day into chunks with rest periods in between. For every two hours of solid work, Williams recommends getting up for a 10-minute break to walk around, breathe or meditate. Everyone is different, so do whatever works for you.
“The goal is to get your mind off the books and back to your body,” Finch said. “Plus, when you allow regular time to reconnect within, you’ll be much more productive and produce better results.”
Make Lunchtime Count
If your office has an outdoor area or a spacious staff room, take advantage of the chance to move away from your desk. You can maintain your fitness while you’re still technically “clocked on” by getting a group of colleagues together for a lunchtime fitness session. Finch suggests a HIIT (high intensity interval training) session, which can be done and dusted in 25 minutes. That still gives you plenty of time to cool down and recharge your batteries with a healthy lunch before you get back to work.
“When we think about exercise, our mind often goes to more traditional modalities like running, lifting weights and yoga,” said Stan Dutton, NASM-certified personal trainer and head coach for personal training platform, Ladder. “While those are all great ways to stay in shape, there’s a good chance your employer wouldn’t be too happy about you doing push-ups in the middle of a board meeting!”
Exercise doesn’t always have to mean breaking a serious sweat. “Simply getting up and moving or doing some stretches throughout the day can be exactly what you need to stay sharp and keep your body from feeling stiff after a long day of sitting,” Dutton said. “Whenever a client asks me what they can do to stay active during a long day at work, my answer usually includes going for a walk.”
Williams recommends moving all your joints multiple times per day in every direction, from either a seated or standing position, to ensure good range of motion.
Schedule Walking Meetings
If meetings are a big part of your workday, why not mix it up with walking meetings? Instead of sitting around a table to brainstorm, do your fitness levels and posture a favor and get on your feet. Williams suggests incorporating movement into any meetings that are longer than 90 minutes long.
As well as boosting energy levels, walking outdoors triggers neural pathways in the brain, which leads to new ideas and more innovative problem-solving. The best time to have a walking meeting is right before lunch to counteract the mid-morning slump, or late afternoon to provide a burst of energy.
Check Your Posture
If you’re guilty of slumping over your desk, set a reminder alarm on your mobile device to check your posture regularly. You should be sitting up straight with your shoulders back and your arms relaxed, and your core (the muscles on your stomach, back and butt, which support your pelvis and spine) engaged. To engage your core, tighten your stomach muscles until they feel stable, roll your shoulders open, gently tuck in your pelvis and fire your glute muscles. “It’s shockingly simple, but really effective,” said Jon Cummins, founder of Bulldog Yoga.
Many people spend the majority of the day sitting down, working on a computer directly in front of them. “Our bodies eventually adapt to the position that we spend the most time in, so if you ever notice that your hips, neck and shoulders are feeling stiff, this is why!” Dutton said.
To combat this, he recommends standing up every hour or so and reaching your hands all the way up to the ceiling. “By doing this, your body will go from a flexed position (hips bent, arms reaching forward) to an extended position and can help reduce the impact that sitting has on your body,” he said.
Stretch It Out
Regular stretching keeps muscles strong and flexible, and increases blood flow to all parts of your body, which improves circulation. “Get blood flowing into your arms, shoulders and neck by raising your arms directly above your head,” Cummins said. “Reach high, slowly wave your arms from side to side, and maybe use a pistol grip to involve your hands and fingers.”
To stretch your calves and the important small muscles in your feet, Cummins suggests flexing your feet (by pointing your toes toward your head) and slowly rotating each one clockwise five to 10 times, then doing the same counter clockwise. And for a great hip stretch, cross your legs so that your right ankle is sitting on your left thigh, then do the same on the other side. “As you feel the stretch, lean forward a bit to increase the intensity,” said Cummins.
Use Tech to Stay Motivated
Lots of fitness apps make exercise fun and keep you motivated and accountable. If you want to mix it up, Sworkit ($4.99 on iOS and Android) gives you workouts based on what you want to do (strength, yoga, cardio or stretching) and how long you have to do it in (from five minutes to an hour).
If you’re limited by time and space, Seven (free on iOS and Android) sets users the challenge of working out for seven minutes a day for seven months using no more than a chair, a wall and their own body weight.
And if you have a private outdoor area or spacious staff room, FitOn, founded by former FitBit executive Lindsay Cook, provides the latest studio trends and classes (led by some big-name trainers like Cassey Ho, Katie Dunlop and JJ Dancer).
Choose the Steps
Whatever type of office you work in, there should be plenty of opportunities to just get up and move. “If your office provides access to stairs, they can be a great — and practical — workout source,” said New York City-based fitness coach Kristian Flores. Flores recommends going up the stairs (as opposed to down) to reduce impact and stress on the knees. “Taking multiple steps at once will also increase use of the glutes and hamstrings, whereas single steps combined with a tall posture will help give your quads a workout,” he said.
“Planks can be practical for the office because you can work your core without wrinkling your shirt!” said Flores. The basic plank, which — when done correctly — strengthens your abdominal region, bottom, upper thighs, arms and shoulders, involves laying on your front on a solid surface with your fists clasped, elbows pushed into your sides by your ribs, forearms on the floor and toes tucked under. You then push your bodyweight up so that it’s resting on your forearms and feet, in a straight line parallel to the floor.
Squeeze the muscles in your bottom and thighs and push your heels together, while pulling up on your pelvic floor and ensuring you’re making a straight line from heels to head, with your neck parallel to the floor. “There are many variations to keep the challenge of planking fresh,” said Flores. “You can try a plank with one arm only, one leg only, or one leg and the opposite arm.”
Use Your Space
Wall push-ups, wall sits, chair dips and chair squats can be can be done anywhere with a wall and a chair.
Related: Yoga Poses to Combat Sitting at Work All Day
For Wall Push-ups...
Stand two feet away from a wall and lean forward, placing your hands flat on the wall slightly wider than your shoulders. Bend your elbows and compress to the wall, keeping your core engaged and your back in one line, then push back until your arms are straight again. Complete 15 to 20 reps.
For Chair Dips...
Sit on a sturdy office chair, then slide your body forward and place your palms on the seat of the chair. Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the ground until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Straighten your arms to return to your starting position. Complete 10 to 15 reps.
For Wall Sits...
Stand with your back against a wall, then slide down the wall until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds, and repeat up to five times.
For Chair Squats...
Simply stand up from you chair then compress back down, stopping just before you reach the char. Repeat 15 to 20 times.