There's no doubt about it. One of the reasons Americans are becoming obese is that so many of us have sedentary desk jobs. And sadly, a sedentary desk job often sets the tone for your whole sedentary day.
In addition to keeping us from getting enough activity to remain healthy, desk jobs often foster poor posture, poor circulation, increased stress responses, and muscle imbalances. Let's look at a few ways you can offset some of that damage.
Get up and move! Download a desktop timer widget and set it to go off once each hour. When the alarm goes off, stand up, walk around, stretch, do some breathing/relaxation exercises. You'll find that taking a 2-10 minute break every hour makes a huge difference in how you feel physically and mentally.
Meet in person. Even in a small company, where employees work in adjacent cubicles, people so often send an email or leave a voicemail rather than getting up and talking face to face. Not only will trading the email for the in-person meeting get you up from your desk and moving, it will give you a chance to build stronger, more personal relationships with your co-workers.
Walk to the water cooler. If you're drinking coffee, soda or energy drinks all day to boost your energy, you may be defeating the purpose. Caffeinated drinks do provide an energy boost, but they also dehydrate you, which will sap your energy in the long run. If you're feeling run down or sleepy, try a glass of water first.
Try a few simple exercises to increase circulation and flexibility.
- Shoulder rolls. Ideally, stand up to do these, but you can still benefit by doing them in your seat. Roll your shoulders gently forward 6-10 times, and then reverse direction for 6-10 times. Next, increase the size of the roll by lifting your elbow as you roll your shoulders, 6-10 times in each direction. Finally, do a full-arm shoulder roll, forward then backward, 6-10 reps in each direction. You will loosen your shoulder joints, relieve tension in your neck, increase circulation in your hands and arms, and even increase your heart rate slightly.
- Neck rolls. Release the tension in your neck by gently dropping your chin to your chest and raising your head back to upright. With your head in a neutral position, drop your ear to the shoulder. Repeat in each direction. Look over your right shoulder, then your left, and repeat several times. Anywhere you feel tightness, repeat gently.
- Stretch your pecs. Most of us sit hunched forward over our keyboards. Hold this pose for hours a day and you end up with chronically stretched rhomboid and trapezius muscles in the back and chronically shortened pectoralis muscles in the front. Clasp your hands behind your back and lift them up while you press forward with your chest. Hold for 15-20 seconds.
- Stretch your back. Your low back gets compressed as you sit for hours at your desk. Try sitting up straight in your chair and twisting your trunk gently to the right and then the left. Hold each twist for 10-20 seconds on each side to give the muscles time to relax.
Finally, Breathe. The busy, stressful nature of your workday probably leaves you breathless, and you don't even realize it. Once an hour, stop for a minute and slow your breathing. Inhale deeply for a count of five, then exhale fully for a count of five. Repeat until you've taken six deep breaths in a minute. Once you start doing this you'll realize how shallowly and quickly you normally breathe. Taking deep, slow breaths helps get vital oxygen to your cells and helps calm your brain and relax your body.
A desk job doesn't have to be a death sentence, but you do have to pay attention to how you feel and give yourself a chance to move throughout the day. How do you uproot yourself from your desk during the day?