Exercises You Can Do at Your Office

Over and over again we are confronted with this important health issue: We all need more exercise. However, the hyper-busy digitally oriented lifestyle of today – 2013 spending 8 to 12 hours hovering in front of a computer screen – 2013 makes the ideal of 30 minutes a day of exercise seem like a faraway dream. And face it, after a long day of office tension and stress, heading off to the gym to workout seems like another exhausting task and well-nigh impossible. Somewhere in the back of our mind, we know it is good for us, and we probably will feel better. But maybe we will do it another day.

Link Between Sedentary Lifestyle and Death

What would happen if all of the people who procrastinate exercise decided to get at least 150 minutes per week? How would it affect the rate of heart disease, type 2 diabetes or even cancer? A team of researchers led by Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston decided to look at the data on global deaths in 2008 and determine the impact if inactive people started getting adequate exercise.

They found that a sedentary lifestyle contributed to 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, and 10% of breast and colon cancer cases worldwide. Based on these statistics, total resulting deaths linked to physical inactivity was 5.3 million. To put this number in perspective– smoking was responsible for 5 million deaths. Lack of exercise is actually killing more people than smoking.

The study went on to speculate that the life expectancy of the world’s population would rise by about 0.7 years if sedentary lifestyles were eliminated. Researchers estimated that even if sedentary lifestyles could not be eliminated altogether, if inactivity fell by just 10%, 533,000 premature deaths could be prevented, and if rates fell by as much as 25 percent, 1.3 million deaths could potentially be avoided.

Only 20% of Adults Meet Recommended Government Amounts of Aerobic and Strength Building Exercise.
In another study, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed survey data collected from more than 450,000 U.S. adults and found that 80% are not getting adequate amounts of physical activity, per government recommended guidelines.

The recommended guideline for adults is as follows:

  1. Aerobic Exercise: The recommended amount of aerobic exercise is 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week (such as walking), or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (such as running) or a combination.
  2. Muscle-strengthening Exercise: The recommended amount for muscle-strengthening exercise (such as lifting weights or doing push-ups)is at least twice per week.

On a more positive note, around 52% of adults did meet the standard for aerobic exercise, and 29% met the strength building standard.

It is not surprising to find that exercise levels in the obese were lower than average. The lowest level of fitness was found in West Virginia, which was also found to have the highest rates of obesity. Colorado was the healthiest state, with the highest amount of adults meeting the fitness standards, and the lowest rate of obesity.

Benefits of Small Amounts of Exercise

If the government guidelines for exercise are prohibitive in their time requirements (and apparently they are, because 80% of us are falling short), there is still hope for busy people with jobs, families and other obligations.

According to a study published by the American Heart Association, even as little as 75 minutes of exercise per week (about 15 minutes per day) can result in a 14% lower risk of heart disease. While the study concluded that more exercise is better, it also noted that a little bit is better than none at all.

Exercises You Can Do At the Office

So why is it– with the data showing promising benefits of exercise, and grim consequences for sedentary lifestyles– we still can’t find time to exercise? Probably because there are a limited number of hours in a day and yet an unlimited number of tasks, obligations and responsibilities to tend to. But a growing number of people are finding ways to work exercise into their business day, with promising results. Overall mental alertness is increased, overall physical health is improved and work productivity actually increases.

What kinds of exercise you can work into your day, may vary depending on your office policies and what kind of space is available. One of the simplest ways to include exercise into your work day is to take 15 minutes out of your lunch time and go for a walk around the building, or outside (weather permitting).

Here are a few other suggestions as well:

In an empty conference room or stairwell
If you are lucky enough to have an empty conference room or stairwell available, you can get in some great moments of aerobic activity.

  1. Jumping Jacks: If the old standard is too much to handle at first, try just doing one side at a time. Raise your right hand while you move your left foot outwards, then do the opposite.
  2. Running in place: Think higher leg lifts, rather than faster.
  3. Going up and down the stairs: If you have a stairwell, don’t miss out on this amazing work out opportunity.

Bathroom stall:
If you are very self conscious, have limited space available, or work in an office where activities at the desk are limited to business related endeavors, there is much that can be done in a bathroom stall. Try a few of these torso based, strength building exercises that also get your heart rate going.

  1. Swimming Strokes– Forward and Backward: Do these at a slow or moderate pace, and concentrate on really using your shoulder muscles as you move your arms in a circular motion forward, and then backward.
  2. Wall Push Ups: Stand at a 45 degree angle to the door of the stall, or the wall of the bathroom, and push your body weight slowly with your arms. Keep your body straight, and your breathing steady.
  3. Side to Side Punches: Stand with your legs slightly apart, in mountain pose. Twist slightly at the waist to the left, while punching with the right hand, across the body to the left. Repeat with the other side. Done correctly this can be a great way to raise your heart rate without requiring a large amount of space.

At Your Desk:
Even at your desk, there are ways to strengthen, stretch and tone.

  1. Free Weights: Having two, small, one or two pound dumbbells at your desk is a great way to build a little strength in your down time. Do a few bicep curls during the tedious conference call, or a few over the head lifts to get your heart rate going when you need a burst of energy.
  2. Seated Leg Lifts (Single): Got 10 minutes before the next meeting? While sitting at your desk extend your right leg and hold to the count of three. Then lower your foot half way to the floor, and hold again to the count of three. Repeat 10 to 15 times, and then try the other leg.
  3. Seated Leg Lifts (Double): If you’re feeling up to a little more challenge, extend both your legs in front of you, tighten your buttocks, and slowly lift and lower your legs.

Do as much as you can, but be realistic as to what you can commit to on a daily basis. Ultimately it is what you do consistently that will bring about long term change in your fitness and wellbeing. So if you can only manage 15 minutes a day, make that 15 minutes count! Then, once you are able to reach that goal with ease, try sneaking in an additional 5 minutes. You might find that by taking small steps, and learning to make time management adjustments, you can work your way up to 30 minutes a day. You might even find you like it.

Dr I-Min Lee, ScD, et al. “Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy.” The Lancet. 380:9838 (2012): 219-229. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61031-9.

CDC. “Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2011.” Vital Health Stat. 10:256 (2012).

Jacob Sattelmair, MSc, et al. “Dose Response Between Physical Activity and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease.”CIRCULATIONAHA. 124: (2011): 789-795. Published online before print August 1, 2011, doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.010710

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