Can't get to the gym? On deadline with a big project? Here are some handy exercises that let you work out while you work at your desk.
by Katie Neith
In a 24/7 world, it is not surprising that finding time for fitness is harder for most of us than it used to be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50 percent of American adults do not achieve the recommended amount of physical activity.
Yet even a small amount of stretching or exercise built into your workday will yield results in the long run, notes Yogi Matharu, D.P.T., assistant professor of clinical physical therapy in Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, a division at the USC School of Dentistry.
"The key is to do something everyday, even if it is only for a few minutes per day," says Matharu. "If you can work the exercise into your daily routine, it will build a strong foundation for incorporating additional fitness into your life."
By using spare time throughout the day, he says, you can work on preventing pain and injury through increased flexibility and balance and reduced stress.
Matharu points out that consistency and frequency are more important than speed, incline or duration.
One of the greatest obstacles for integrating exercise into your workday is simply remembering to do so. While it is easy to remember setting aside an hour of your day for a formal exercise program, you might need some help in establishing a routine that makes the most of your down time or break time at work.
"It is useful to use external reminders such as your computer's calendar program to prompt you, an egg timer or Post-It notes on different parts of your office," Matharu advises. "Just 'trying to remember' usually doesn't work because you will forget when you become engrossed in your work."
Matharu stresses that the most important thing to remember is that some activity is better than no activity. Exercising 1-5 minutes every hour can easily add up to the recommended 30 minutes per day of activity.
"Many people cannot find 30 minutes of continuous time for activity," says Matharu. "However, activity a few minutes at a time is an effective strategy for even my busiest patients."
He recommends the following exercises for improved circulation, to remedy pressure put on certain body parts by sitting all day and for overall strength training.
His one caution: do not perform any exercises that cause pain. "It is worthwhile to exercise even if you cannot do the full number of repetitions recommended," he says.
One Leg Balance
This exercise helps strengthen leg muscles and coordinate balance. Stand on one leg for 30 seconds, using your desk to steady you if necessary. Repeat on opposite leg. Incorporate this simple task into your day by doing it any time you answer the phone, wash your hands or wait for elevator, etc. If you feel steady on one leg, use this time to also stretch your neck, moving your head up and down and then side to side.
Poor posture is rampant in office workers, especially in those who spend long hours at the computer. To avoid the neck, shoulder and upper back pain that is often associated with slumping your shoulders, pinch your shoulders back for 10 seconds at a time. This exercise will also develop strength in the back muscles, stretch the chest muscles and increase blood flow to the body. Set reminders on your computer's calendar to do this drill 10 times every 30 to 60 minutes.
Lower Back Stretch
Sitting at a desk all day can take a toll on your entire body, and in particular, your lower back. In fact, lower back pain is second only to the common cold as a cause of missed work. To stretch the lower back, stand up and extend your upper body backward until you have a gentle extension on your back. Hold for 10 seconds. Return to an upright position and bend sideways, sliding your hand down your right leg. Repeat on the left side. Perform this exercise at least every two hours.
Prolonged activities of standing, sitting, or walking often cause soreness or mild swelling in the feet and legs. To perform a calf stretch for the lower legs, stand up with feet together, step forward with one foot until you feel a stretch in the back of the rear leg (the back knee should be straight and foot should be pointed straight forward with heel in line with toes). Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, 4 times on each leg. You can use one hand on a table or wall to steady yourself if needed.
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