When you have one of those 9-to-5 (or 9-to-6, 9-to-7…) jobs that has you chained to a desk all day, it’s easy to fall into a stiff pose that leaves you feeling mangled and sore. It’s also pretty easy to fall out of shape—after all, no one ever broke a sweat at the copy machine.
The pitfalls of a sedentary lifestyle and the havoc sitting for long periods of time can wreak on your health have been the subject of many scientific studies, with each conclusion seemingly scarier than the next. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Lifestyle Medicine looked at the adverse effects of prolonged sitting on the general health of 447 office workers who spent an average of 6.29 hours sitting out of an eight-hour workday. The findings? “Our results indicated that long sitting times were associated with exhaustion during the working day, decreased job satisfaction, hypertension, and musculoskeletal disorder symptoms in the shoulders, lower back, thighs, and knees of office workers,” concluded the study’s authors.
Considering that precisely nothing about that conclusion sounds appealing, we asked experts how best to combat the adverse effects of a desk job—particularly if a standing desk isn’t an option in your workspace environment.
Flex in Five
When a lunchtime yoga session isn’t in the cards (and, really, is it for most of us?), Sherrell Moore-Tucker, a natural health and wellness professional who specializes in yoga and meditation, has a quick fix. She recommends incorporating the following few movements into your day, five times a day:
“Enjoy a nice mid-day inversion by bending forward holding onto your chair for support, or place your hands on your shins or touch your toes while releasing the head and neck (hold for 30 seconds),” she instructs. “Reversing gravity, begin to shake the head side to side and up and down as if you’re gesturing yes and no (for another 30 seconds).”
Moore-Tucker then suggests standing while rolling your shoulders slowly forward and back a few times, adding your arms by circling forward and back for one minute. Next, while holding onto your desk for support, step one leg back into a lunge to stretch your legs (for 30 seconds on each side).
“Bring the legs back together and stand tall with the arms overhead,” she says. “Lean the body to the right and then to the left a few times (for 1 minute). Place the hands on the low back and stretch and lift the chest up and slightly back for a gentle back bend like the ones that we do early in the morning.”
For your final move, Moore-Tucker advises to finish with a seated twist by twisting your chest, shoulders, neck and head to the right and then the left (for 30 seconds on each side).
If you aren’t a morning person, the idea of setting your alarm even earlier than usual might seem like a punishment, but Tiffany Cruikshank, L.A.C., MAOM, RYT, founder of Yoga Medicine, recommends giving yourself a burst of exercise before you head to the office.
“So many of my patients and students are usually a bit burnt out and stressed out,” she says. “I prefer to try to get them to do something quick in the morning—when you want your cortisol higher. This helps support the natural circadian rhythm, which is helpful for so many things from fatigue to insomnia, and really helpful for supporting the adrenals, which tend to take the brunt of long-term stress.”
There are a plethora of apps that provide short, simple morning-jumpstart workouts you can do from home. Cruikshankl recommends the meditation and yoga app and site YogaGlo.com, which is “a great resource since you can choose from a variety of classes to suit your needs.” She also likes 8fit for people who want to build a habit of doing simple, exercise-based movements in the morning or during a break.
Skip the Shortcuts
Yes, that meeting is starting in a few minutes and, sure, it might seem more practical to take the elevator—but don’t. Embrace those moments when you’re moving through your office to the bathroom, to a meeting, or on the way to a lunch.
“Don’t take shortcuts or use labor-saving devices such as elevators (unless you need to!),” says Marshall Weber, fitness coach at Jack City Fitness. “Walk a few blocks for an errand rather than starting the car.”
Weber also recommends extending this into your life outside of work to combat the sitting you’re doing all day Monday through Friday.
“If you’re parking in a mall or grocery lot, park further from the door rather than circling the lot for a closer spot,” he says. “You’ll get more exercise and save gas. When you’re cleaning the house, put some music on and do some dance moves while doing your cleaning routine. It’s a small amount of expended calories, but every little bit helps. Do a yard project with the children such as plant a garden or a tree.”
Of course, when you’re working all week, it may be hard to hit the gym—but everyone should aim to do some form of cardio about four times per week, along with strength training about two times per week. HIIT workouts are helpful for people who want to make the most out of their time, since they’re short but explosive.
As Michelle Golla, a personal trainer at Boost 180 Fitness in Denver, CO points out, the body was not designed to sit still.
“A good rule of thumb is for every 50 minutes you sit, walk for the next 10,” she says. “Not only does this help get your blood flowing to your muscles, but also to your brain, increasing productivity.”
Golla also notes that if you have to sit, it’s important to make sure the way you’re sitting is good for you: “A focus on good posture will also help combat the effects of sitting at a desk all day,” she says. “If you have the option not to use a standard desk chair, exercise balls are a great alternative for keeping your core engaged throughout the day. Furthermore, if you have the option for a flexible desk option that converts to a standing desk, that’s another great way to change the dynamics of your physicality during the work day.”