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Why exercise at your desk? Because most people in the US are spending too much time sitting at the office, in front of the TV at home, resulting in so many disease conditions, such as lower back pain when sitting or after standing.
Data from CDC shows some interesting facts like just about one-third of adults would engage in no leisure-time activity. Nearly half of the adults are fulfilling the bare minimum requirement for daily aerobic physical activity. And less than a third of all adults engage in muscle-strengthening exercises.
However, it is essential to understand that doing exercise is not enough. If a person is going to the gym three times a week, it does not mean that he or she can sit at the desk as much as he or she likes. Humans are not made to sit for prolonged intervals.
The human body is created in such a way that it works best when a person is standing and moves frequently. Only then, the heart and the respiratory system work well, bowel movement is rhythmic enough, and muscles and bones remain strong. That is why many researchers are calling sitting at the desk as a new kind of smoking. It means that total physical activity also has an importance in wellbeing.
Let’s check the facts. Most population-based surveys show that 70% or more of Americans are sitting too much and for too long. It is not that people like sitting, as most say that they hate sitting for prolonged intervals, but the nature of job forces them. Among the full-time workers, 86% must do their jobs sitting for hours together.
On top of that, people sit for a few more hours fulfilling their personal needs like having meals, commuting to the job. Most people spend an hour or two watching TV, playing games. Some prefer sitting in a lounge and reading. Others spend a couple of hours using their home computers or gadgets.
All this means that on average Americans are sitting for about 13 hours a day and spending another 8 hours in the bed resulting in 21 hours of sedentary lifestyle a day. People are willing to do more, to stand more, but there is a lack of awareness.
Though most Americans know that sitting for long is bad for health, but very few know that something like “sitting disease” exists. Sitting disease may still not be an official diagnosis, but many physicians understand that it is the underlying cause of many health disorders.
Still not convinced? Then look at other studies like one report saying that office workers spend a whopping 1700 hours in front of a computer screen in a year.
The US is the most overworked nation in the developed world. It has one of the worst indicators for work-life balance. One of the few countries without parental leave benefits. Most people work for more than 40 hours a week. Yet, few can expect to get paid sick days, paid vacations.
Prolonged sitting may ruin your health so much that researchers are now thinking to call prolonged sitting itself a disease, a highly preventable disease.
- Weakens your heart - it is well known that exercise strengthens the heart, and lack of it weakens. One of the first studies that noticed the risk of prolonged sitting was done in the workers of public transport. And the study found that drivers were at considerably higher risk of heart diseases than conductors – as conductors keep moving most of the time.
- Shortens your life - that is why doctors are calling it a new kind of smoking.
- Higher risk of dementia - sitting for prolonged intervals at the desk increases risk of metabolic disorders, vascular diseases, high cholesterol levels, chronic inflammation. All this, finally, over the years, considerably increases the risk of developing dementia.
- Reduces benefits from exercise - if not wholly, it partially neutralizes the benefits of going to the gym. So, if you are spending an hour in a gym, four times a week, most of the benefits will be reversed by continually sitting for about 7 hours. On the other hand, doing a few simple exercises may help add to the benefits.
- Higher risk of diabetes - numerous diabetes prevention studies show that continued physical activity is the single most effective way of preventing insulin resistance and diabetes. Doing exercises at the desk for a few minutes will change the way your body reacts to sweetened tea or coffee.
- Lower risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) - is a rare but severe condition which has direct relations to the sedentary lifestyle.
- Weight gain - sedentary lifestyle or prolonged sitting sessions are perhaps the most important contributing factor to the epidemic of obesity after diet. Moving for a few minutes now and then may help keep metabolism boosted.
- Anxiety problem - researchers do not fully understand why it happens, but those who sit at the desk for longer duration are more probable to suffer from anxiety. That is why a few minutes of exercise at the desk can even change your performance at the job.
- Spoils your back - as two things happened during prolonged sitting, firstly, there is increased stress on various spinal structures. Secondly, supporting muscles weaken, and local blood flow declines. It means that the spine becomes too weak to bear the physical burden.
- Varicose veins - occur due to the pooling of blood in your legs. Calf muscles are often called the second heart as their regular contraction helps the blood to move back to the heart. However, prolonged sitting prevents this backward flow, damages the vascular valves, leading to the varicose veins.
- Weakening of skeleton - human body operates on a simple principle; you lose what you do not use. And just the opposite is also true; body strengthens what is used frequently. Those sitting for prolonged intervals have weaker bones, muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, and even internal organs become sluggish.
- Higher risk of cancer - a few types of cancer now seems to have a direct relation with prolonged sitting like lung cancer, colon cancer, endometrial cancer. Interestingly, you do not have to be super active to reduce the risk. Just avoiding extended sitting sessions and doing mild exercises in-between is enough to minimize the risk.
You do not necessarily need to engage in strenuous exercises to be healthy or increase the number of hours you spend in the gym. Just flexing your muscles now and then, stretching them frequently, standing more often, may help reduce the risk of many disease conditions.
Regretfully, things will not work unless you create a more specific plan. It is a good idea to learn a few exercises that can be done without moving far away from the desk. Activities that do not ask for much time or any equipment.
However, there are some challenges involved in doing exercises at the workplace. Moving away from the desk may not be welcomed by employers.
So, here is a collection of activities that can be done at the desk and do not ask for much time. Exercises for busy professionals who spend most of their working day sitting in front of the screen can help get rid of lower back pain from sitting.
- 1. Stand up frequently – you may ask that is it an exercise? Yes, it is one of the simplest exercises that you can often do without getting unnecessary attention. Many adverse effects of prolonged sitting can be managed merely by standing a few times in an hour. One can use this time to discuss things with colleagues, and so on.
- 2. Think about the standing desk- it is even better than frequently standing. It has many benefits like you can move more regularly instead of spending much of the time in front of the screen needlessly.
- 3. Neck stretching- shoulder and neck stiffness is one of the severe issues. They may also lead to migraine-like headaches in many. A simple solution to this is doing neck stretching. There are many simple exercises for neck like rotating the neck, bringing chin as close as possible to the chest, bending the neck backward and sidewise. You can repeat these simple exercises several times a day to avoid the pain.
- 4. Back stretching- lower back problems are commonly a consequence of prolonged sitting, and back exercises do not ask for much physical space. There are many exercises for it; one can choose what suits them best. Important is to avoid tightening of your back. Trying to touch toes in a standing position is an excellent example of back stretching.
- 5. Shoulder stretching- after back and neck, it is essential to take care of your shoulders. Simples exercises can help avoid sore shoulders. One of the simple ways to do this exercise is to grasp hands behind the back and then pull them downwards. Similar kind of activity can be repeated with hand above the head.
- 6. Push-ups- help stimulate the entire body. They are especially useful for the chest, biceps, triceps, back muscles, neck, abdomen, and may even put stress on the legs. However, in the office, you may need to modify them a bit. You do not necessarily do them on the floor or flat surface, instead, do them in an inclined position using your chair or desk. Inclined push-ups are much more manageable. It is a moderate intensity exercise that can even help build your aerobic capacity.
- 7. Squats- another excellent exercise that is physically bit demanding too. You do not necessarily need weights to do it. In the office or at the desk you can do squats more frequently, or you can increase the number of reps to get the same effect as in the gym. They will help you get better glutes and thighs over time.
- 8. Triceps dips- another exercise that can be quickly done in an office, it would be better to use a chair to do triceps dips. It will provide bulk to your arms. It is also suitable for chest and shoulders. It will reduce the risk of neck pains. It is demanding enough to strengthen your heart too.
- 9. Calf raises- if you sit for long hours, blood pools in your legs, increasing risk of many diseases. Calf raises, is one of the most important exercises to do. It squeezes the blood vessels in the legs and helps improve the blood flow back to the heart. It is a simple exercise in which you stand behind the chair, hold it for a balance, then raise one leg above the ground and raise your self on the toes on one leg, and go back down. Repeat it several times. It also improves the shape of the lower limbs.
- 10. The invisible chair- is an exercise in which you pretend to sit on a chair, though there is no chair below your butts. It is suitable for legs and buts and improves stability too. It is a very useful way to build leg muscles without doing rigorous exercise; it is something like an abdominal plank.
- 11. Squeeze your glutes- is another pretty straightforward workout that can be done anywhere, you tighten your glutes and hold them for few seconds. You can repeat it multiple times.
- 12. Knee tucks- just simply pull your knees towards your chest while sitting on your chair, it will have the same effect as doing sit-ups but are less strenuous.
- 13. Lunges - can be used as a way of moving inside the office, instead of walking. It is true that you may look bit silly, but then you are guaranteed to look better in a swimsuit. Lunges not only strengthen legs, but they also improve core stability and balance, improve spinal health, and make you more active.
- 14. Stationary lunges - are a better option if there isn’t enough space in the office or you do not want to get unnecessary attention.
- 15. Eat lunch farther away - this is not exactly something you do at the desk, but you can start having lunch at a place farther away from your working place so that you can walk more during lunch hours.
- 16. Shoulder press - for this you may need a makeshift dumbbell, and what could be better than water bottles. That may not be very heavy, but you can increase the level of complexity by increasing the number of reps.
- 17. Shoulder flies - is another great exercise to do with a couple of water bottles. Hold the containers in both hands while standing, and then raise your hands to the side, do as many reps as you can. Follow this by raising the hands in front. It is a great way to build shoulders.
- 18. Jumping jack - everyone knows them, they are suitable for legs, upper body, and are great for improving aerobic capacity too.
- 19. Arm curls - since know you know how to use makeshift barbells; you can also do several sets of arm curls throughout the day. In the long run, it can help build toned biceps.
- 20. Isometric bicep curls - if you do not have anything heavy around or even water bottles, no need to worry, you can do bicep curls without any weight by adding resistance with the help of another arm.
- 21. Military march - is one of the simplest and yet quite a useful exercise. You raise your legs and arms as straight as possible. You can do this exercise by standing at the same spot, without moving, and within a minute, you will feel that your butt, shoulders, legs, all have started burning.
- 22. Seated triceps press - you can use an even heavier water bottle or bag with a laptop for this exercise.
- 23. Jogging in place - great exercise for those who love running.
- 24. Learn yoga poses - they can be done in the office and help to improve mental abilities too.
- 25. Use stairs more often - instead of using the elevator. If your work allows it, you can do this several times during the day.
- 26. Exercise bike - these days, there are many small exercise bikes available that are meant to be placed below the working desk, and one can do the peddling while sitting on the chair.
- 27. Elliptical trainer – that fits under your desk with adjustable resistance levels can be a great way to do exercise while working.
And don't stop just at work! You can continue to do various stretching exercises at home. Here is a Complete Guide to Lower Back Stretches anyone can do, as well as the avid fitness and body builder.
Usually, one can start with some simpler exercises and slowly progress to the more complex workout plan. If done with proper planning, these exercises can be as beneficial as going to the gym.
Many professionals do not have time to go to the gym, but doing these exercises do not take much and do not distract you from your job too.