Health / Expert Advice

5 Ways to Work Out and Practice Wellness at Your Desk

Don’t let the 9-to-5 grind keep you from being healthy and fit.

For most of us, work consists of sitting at a desk till dusk with sporadic meetings and a lunch break in between. Slouching behind a desk and being immobile for hours on end has been proven to be detrimental to our physical and mental health. Fortunately, many have taken that news and worked to reverse the negative impacts of our desk jobs. With more and more individuals putting their health first, there are acceptable ways to have a successful career while maintaining a fit body and mind. We spoke to health experts and trainers about the best ways to incorporate wellness at your desk.

Why sit when you can stand?

More and more, standing desks are popping up at companies all over the country. The reason why is that the prolonged sitting time has been shown to have negative implications for overall health. Martin C. Avila, vice president of Seville Classics, says, “Standing desks simply let users reduce their sedentary behavior by getting up occasionally throughout the day. In excess, activities like sitting for prolonged periods of time contribute to health problems like heart disease and diabetes.” On the other hand, Avila notes that “standing for too long also has its share of hazards.” This is why it’s important to change up your position every hour or so.

A small burst of exercise can go a long way.

According to personal trainer Lauren Seib, discussing and implementing health and wellness in the workplace is such a necessity in this day and age given the amount of time individuals sit and stare at their computers. Below, she lists five workouts to incorporate into office and desk culture—and each only takes a couple minutes. These short bursts of exercise and strength training routines will engage your muscles and provide more blood flow throughout your body. This is good if you’ve been sitting for an extended amount of time.

Have five minutes before a meeting?

Chair Tricep Dips (primarily works the tricep muscle): Plant both hands with your fingertips facing forward on your stationary chair (wheel-free). Walk your feet forward, so your tush clears the chair and your knees form a 90-degree angle. Bend your elbows so that they face straight back. Lower your hips down a few inches before firing up your triceps to lift yourself back up. Avoid locking out your elbows to keep the joints healthy and happy. Pro tip: Don’t use your legs/seat to lift yourself back up. This is all back-of-the-arm work while keeping your chest up, chin parallel to the floor, and, of course, abs engaged.

Perform three sets of 15 reps.

Waiting for a stack of documents at the copier?

Wall Sit (primarily works the glute, calf, hamstring, and quad muscles): Take a seat at the nearest wall. Lower yourself down until your body forms two 90-degree angles (shoulders, hips, and knees + hips, knees, and ankles). Brace your abs, pushing the small of your back into the wall. Hold for 60 seconds (or until your docs have successfully printed) before standing back up.

Perform three individual sits.

Have a standing desk?

Calf Raises (primarily works the calf muscle): Stand inner-hip-distance apart with your feet, keeping all ten toes facing forward. Start to lift and lower your heels, articulating the stretch to the arches to target your calves. Bonus: Fold up your cardigan or jacket and place it between the thighs to squeeze (hello, adductors). Try to balance as you travel up and down.

Perform three sets of 20 reps.

Just getting back from lunch?

Seated In-and-Outs (primarily works the upper and lower abdominal muscles): Come to the edge of your chair and slightly hinge back, creating a V-like seated position. Extend your legs out and back in toward your chest while keeping your abs flat and hands beside your hips or gripping the edge of the chair.

Perform three sets of 15 reps.

Taking a bathroom break?

Walking Lunges (primarily works the quad, hamstring, calf, and glute muscles): Lunge your way down the hall, stepping forward with one leg and gently lowering the back leg’s knee toward the floor before coming back up and repeating on the other side. For those with cranky knees, stay up a little higher. Bonus: Take your coffee with you to make a pit stop at the break room, and rotate toward the front thigh as you lunge.

Perform three sets of 20 reps (ten on each side).

While sitting, you can also practice chair yoga to help retain and increase circulation during your day. Plus, adding periods of stretching alleviates tense muscles and increases flexibility. For chair yoga poses and practices, check out What Actually Is Chair Yoga, and How Do I Do It?

Be aware of your posture.

“Bad posture can impact our health because it changes our spinal alignment by pushing out the natural curve in the lower back and putting strain on the back muscles,” says Brian Anderson, vice president of marketing at Back Pain Help. “Bad posture can lead to a host of other problems, such as a weakened core, ‘tech neck,’ sciatica pain, and more. When we have aches and pains, it becomes difficult to stay active, which in turn impacts our overall health and wellness.” By actively being aware of your posture or buying tools such as posture stands or posture cushions to assist you, you’re supporting your vertebrae and neck. This will relieve uncomfortable pains that occur after a long day of work.

Add some resistance.

“The benefits of resistance training have long been accepted. If our muscles are challenged by exerting effort against a resistive force, they will grow stronger through that range of motion and become firmer and more defined,” says Daniel Schreiber, CEO of WearBands. “The opposite is true of being sedentary, as we often are while at work. [This] can lead to a reduction in muscle strength and loss of definition.” The challenge for many is finding the time, tools, and motivation to incorporate resistance training—which can be monotonous—into our daily lives. Schreiber recommends wearing resistance bands while sitting at your desk or adding them to your habitual walks around the office. This way, you’re being productive with muscle strengthening without the hassle of setting aside time before or after work.

Create a space to set goals for yourself.

Keep reminders or motivational pieces on your desk, whether it’s a picture of the marathon you signed up for or an invitation to a wedding you want to glow at. Angela Mader, founder of Fitlosophy, believes that understanding why you’re looking to better yourself and focus on your health will ultimately lead to better results. “Working out just for the sake of working out can get cumbersome,” she says. “Going to the gym day in and day out can wear on you when you aren’t really working toward anything.”

Mader also recommends clearly defining your goals, as they will lead the framework that’s guiding you to your success. “Identify a goal that has a clearly defined time frame. Having a beginning and end gives you a mental map of where you are now and where you’re headed,” she explains. “After you’ve identified what your goal is, finding your why can be the biggest motivating factor.”

An example of a mental dialogue could be: I want to lose ten pounds before spring. Why? Because I want to look healthy in my wedding dress. Also, increase your motivation by setting smaller goals along the way. “You might feel discouraged at first. But then again, you might achieve things that will even impress you. So shift your mindset for a deserving rewards system,” Mader says.

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