15 Ways to Stop Being So Sedentary at the Office
With each passing decade, fewer and fewer Americans have physically active jobs. Sedentary jobs have increased 83 percent since 1950, according to the American Heart Association. These tips from personal trainers, physicians, and award-winning athletes, including their favorite fitness products for the workplace, can help workers stay active when stuck in an office. "It's important to be intentional about creating healthy habits and routines at the office, because we spend such a significant amount of time at work," says Tyler Spraul, head trainer at Exercise.com.
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Katy Fraggos, a New York City-based certified personal trainer and creator of the Perspirology workout, suggests answering nature's call at the bathroom farthest from your desk -- even a bathroom on another floor.
Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, notes that walking or biking to work instead of driving is an excellent way to counteract a sedentary job. People lucky enough to have a short commute should consider seizing this opportunity.
Nearly every expert seems to offer this bit of advice: Create activity reminders. Whether on a smartphone or a fitness tracker, some sort of alert should remind you to move around. "It's easy to be so focused (or distracted) at work that you lose track of time," Spraul says. Fraggos suggests at least one lap around the office every 30 to 45 minutes. Apovian recommends setting hourly alarms for a walk around the office, or engaging in an activity such as walking up and down steps while carrying something.
Another popular tip from trainers across the country: Try holding walking meetings. In other words, walk and talk rather than sitting in a conference room. This works best for smaller meetings that involve two to three people at most. "When I have one-to-one meetings with my subordinates, it's always a walking meeting," says Pete Abilla, founder and CEO of Find Tutors Near Me, small business based in Utah. "We walk around the office and, if it's nice outside, we go for a walk."
Health and fitness experts continually recommend taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Robert Herbst, a personal trainer, coach, and award-winning power lifter, also suggests parking at the farthest end of the office parking lot (if security isn't an issue).
Standing up while making phone calls is one little way to increase activity. And instead of emailing colleagues, walk over and have a conversation. "Not only will you get fitter, but the personal touch is often better," Herbst says.
What better way to fight the problems that come from sitting all day than by standing up? Doctors, personal trainers, and others recommend using a standing desk if possible. "I recommend switching it up at regular intervals. You can start out with shorter amounts of time standing up, but work on increasing your standing time as you get used to it," says Spraul of Exercise.com. One caveat is that such desks can be pricey, although numerous models can be found on Amazon for less than $200.
Initially created for kids, Bouncy Bands (starting at $15) have also become popular among adults, says company CEO Scott Ertl. This product attaches to an office chair or desk and allows for bouncing or stretching the legs throughout the day while working.
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The Versa 8 band ($8 to $10) is another conveniently small piece of equipment that can increase physical activity at work. Recommended by Lisa Snow, a New York-based certified personal trainer and president of On the Mend Customized Fitness and Massage, the bands are used to perform a variety of upper-body exercises. "This tiny and lightweight piece of equipment allows for an amazing range of arm, shoulder, and ab exercises," Snow says. "And they can easily fit in a desk drawer."
Sitting on an exercise ball rather than a stiff office chair keeps the core and legs activated throughout the day. Some companies even make balance-ball chairs specifically for desks, such as the Gaiam Balance Ball Chair ($64 on Amazon). Herbst suggests slowly integrating the ball chair into your daily routine if you're not used to it. "Otherwise you'll get sore and be subject to overuse injuries early on."
Rethink how you use your spare time at the office, says Anthony Myers, who works long hours at a software startup and also runs the website Muscle Class. "I have a personal goal to walk 2 miles per day as tracked by my iPhone. So on my two 15-minute breaks, I get out of the office and go for a nice long walk." He also suggests using lunchtime to visit the gym at least once a week. On those days, workers can eat lunch at their desks, he says.
Grace Derocha, a certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, says one of the easiest exercises to do at work is a glute squeeze. All it involves is simply squeezing the buttocks, holding that position for five to 10 seconds, releasing, and repeating.
Derocha also suggests "desk-ups" to increase arm strength. These involve placing both hands on a desk, moving your feet back to lean at a 45-degree angle, and then pushing off with as much force as possible. She suggests 10 to 12 reps.
Another in-office exercise suggestion comes from Stephen Mason, an exercise physiologist and owner of Personal Training @FitOne in Tennessee. Mason recommends what he calls chair squats. These involve simply standing up and sitting down in a chair in sets of 10 to 20 reps. He suggests trying to do one to three sets every hour.
Fraggos, the New York-based personal trainer and creator of Perspirology, has another exercise that doesn't even require getting up out of a chair. Every 15 minutes, do 20 to 50 double-leg knee lifts. Keep the back straight and abdominals engaged to lift the knees in a pulsing action.