When office work is brought up as a topic of conversation, those in the health and fitness world usually cringe. We know all too well from either our own experiences or our clients’ that office work takes a toll on the body and the mind. Words like poor body mechanics, terrible posture, mental exhaustion, and sedentary lifestyle flash before our eyes as if Armageddon is coming. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. We can create a healthy work-life balance not only outside of work, but also during work.
Corporate culture in America and the Western world often falls victim to the false theory that constantly grinding through work leads to better results. This is almost never the case. Just as the human species is not meant to sprint or lift weights for eight hours straight every day, we also are not meant to grind through our work mentally for hours on end.
As a former office worker and corporate health consultant, I have put together a list of practices I commonly advise both workers and companies to implement to create more balanced, productive, and happy workers.
Get a Standing Desk
A standing desk is necessary if you’re going to have a long-term career in an office. Chairs are orthopedic death-monsters waiting to cripple you and bask in your misery. A standing desk will increase blood flow throughout the body, help you avoid joint pain, lengthen the tendons and ligaments that are constantly flexed while sitting, and will create a psychological sense of freedom. With adjustable standing desks, you can choose to sit or stand at any time, and many find this makes sitting more comfortable when they can constantly transition from sitting to standing and vice versa while working.
It is usually easy to request a standing desk from HR, especially if you induce a health-related lecture. For corporations, it is more important now than ever to invest in employees as workers are increasingly job-hopping. If you can make a case that a standing desk will help your productivity, there is no reason for your company to say no.
If You Sit, Be Nice to Your Joints
If a standing desk is not a possibility, here are ways to make sitting easier on your body.
Sit with a nice, tall posture, with your shoulders rolled back and down. Your chest should be pushed slightly outward and your feet should be flat on the floor. Your neck will be in line with the rest of your spine, not leaned forward. Your feet, legs, knees, and hips should all form 90-degree angles. Perfect posture will protect your joints as best as possible, condition your muscles while you sit, and ingrain good postural habits that benefit you outside of the office.
Keep your muscles engaged while you sit. You can do this with mini bands. Mini bands come in packs of 3 or 4 for about $10. They come in different elasticities, making them easier or harder to stretch. Take a mini band, slip both of your legs through it, and wrap it around your ankles or upper thighs. While sitting, move your feet and legs apart, hold the position with the band stretched. Pick an elasticity that you will be able to hold stretched open for about a minute. While holding this position you will be activating your abductors, your gluteal muscles, your core, hamstrings, multifidi, and erector spinae just to name a few. If you get tired, simply close your legs for a few minutes and rest. Do this off and on throughout the day for muscle activation. You can also put the mini band around your thighs, just above your knees, and do small marching knee steps until fatigue.
Without the bands, you can do calf raises on the balls of our feet every now and then to engage your ankles, toes, and calves. Regularly perform crucifix stretches to get the upper back, shoulders, and neck out of keyboard posture. Roll your wrists and wiggle your fingers around to keep from getting stiff hands. No matter what you do, always strive for some minimal movement while sitting.
Working in a cubicle doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your health. [Photo credit: Pixabay]
Every hour or two, take a 5-minute break to go outside to breathe fresh air, see actual sunlight, and get out of the office atmosphere. Most Americans are vitamin D deficient, which affects our mood and cognitive health. A few breaks throughout the day can easily add up to a half hour of sunlight per day, even while working. Sunlight will give you a mid-day boost and help your productivity come back to life. If other employees can take smoke breaks, you should be able to take nature breaks.
Find a Tranquil Spot to Relax
If you can, find a nice getaway spot in your office building. At my first job, I knew the gym was typically empty from 9:00 to 11:00 and from 3:00 to 4:30, so I would go in there and just lay on a mat and close my eyes for five minutes to unwind or meditate. At my last job I would go to the top of a stairwell no one used and I would stretch or just close my eyes for a minute. Your little getaway can be anywhere from a grassy median in the parking lot to an empty, unused conference room.
Flex Baby, Flex
Muscle contraction is a powerful thing. It gets your blood flowing, releases endorphins, and feels incredible. You know when you first wake up in the morning and you flex your legs as hard as you can; it feels like God is personally pumping steroids through your thighs. Well, it feels the same way after being sedentary for hours. Animals do this every time they get up from a resting position to get ready for movement. Go outside or in your tranquil spot, start from your toes and work your way up to your head, flexing and contracting every muscle.
- Go on your tiptoes to flex your calves.
- Straighten your legs as hard as you can and target your quads and thighs.
- Press the heels of your feet together to squeeze your glutes.
- Contract your core like you’re getting ready for a punch.
- Extend your arms to target your triceps. From here go straight into a mean bicep and upper back squeeze.
- Extend your arms straight down to flex your pecs.
- Finally, use a wide open jaw to contract your neck muscles.
This might sound eccentric, but it feels incredible. Try this a couple times a day at work and you will feel like a new person.
Walk the Stairs
Taking the stairs is a small change that adds a lot of activity to your life over time. If you struggle at first, make it a challenge to see how far you can get without taking a break. Keep track each day and be proud of your improvements. Get coworkers involved to make it fun and a competition.
Walk at Lunch or During Meetings
Walking is the original movement pattern. Walking is so beneficial for your muscles, joints, and mental health. Walking as often as possible is also a great way to lose weight. If you have an hour at lunch, take however much time you need to eat, then walk the rest of your hour. Walk with a friend and have a nice chat. Instead of grabbing a conference room for a meeting, suggest a walking meeting if it doesn’t require you to be on your computer.
Crawl or Do a Few Pushups
If you really want to spice up your day or you are really in a fog, get down and do five, ten, or twenty push ups. If your hips and back feeling tight, crawl on your hands and feet for a few yards. You probably aren’t going to break a sweat, but you will be surprised at how alert you will feel after a little bit of movement. Push ups are a great way to stretch out your torso after sitting for a long period, and crawling is great for your legs, hips, and shoulders. These are both simple, full-body movements, that engage almost every muscle in your body. Perform just a few reps and feel your energy come back to life.
Drink Plenty of Water
Hydration is important in every aspect of your life, no matter how active you are. Hydration will keep you focused, while also preserving your organ, brain, and muscle health. Most people are terminally dehydrated. If you’re thirsty, it’s already too late. Start your morning off with a large cup of water to go with your tea or coffee and continue to refill your cup throughout the day. Keeping water at arm’s reach on your desk will ensure that you are constantly drinking it. This will also give you a good reason to get up every hour or so to walk around.
Meditate and Regroup
If you’re having a rough day, head over to your tranquil spot, and clear your mind for a few minutes with some light meditation. Take three deep, diaphragmatic breaths to regroup. Prioritize your day and tell yourself to take one step at a time. Stepping away for a few minutes will give you a completely refreshed perspective on your day or assignment.
Shift the Culture
With the grind-through-it work philosophy prevalent in society, it is more important than ever for companies to invest in their employees’ health by giving workers more freedom with small breaks intermittently throughout the day, and creating an environment that encourages personal well-being.
If you are more productive, more creative, constantly engaged while at work, and bringing in better results, there is really nothing your boss can complain about. Let your work speak for your actions. Hopefully your company will take notice and create an environment that invests in all of its employees.
Here’s more to hep you counter the negative effects of sitting: