The average office worker spends three-quarters of their time at work, and two-thirds of their waking hours in a seated position. (Even if you're working from home, as so many of us are right now, you're probably sitting the same amount.) This is — unsurprisingly — bad for you. And believe it or not, making up for all of this time sitting down is not as simple as doing a few push-ups. Here’s a few tips to stay healthy and keep crushing races, even if you work at a desk all day.
1. Use a Standing Desk
We all need exercise to be healthy, but it has long been assumed that office workers could make up for spending all day in a chair by working out on a regular basis. However, recent studies suggest that this is not entirely true.
Various studies have found excessive sitting to be a risk factor for cardio-metabolic disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, coronary artery disease, musculoskeletal disorders, some types of cancer, and premature death.
The additional number of calories you burn while standing versus while sitting is actually pretty low — around 100 extra calories per day if you avoid staying seated. And yet, that’s still enough to account for around 80 percent of the creeping weight gain that the average adult experiences.
Furthermore, some studies now show that the association between excessive sitting and poor health remains even when subjects work out for five or more hours per week. It seems that occasional bursts of high-intensity exercise just can't compete with frequent, low-intensity activity.
Fortunately, standing desks —or an attachment that converts regular desks into standing desks — make this a solvable issue. You’ll feel better and have more energy when you aren’t sitting down all day. Besides, you can always sit down for a half hour to rest your feet, if necessary.
It would be better still to use a treadmill desk, which burns more calories and is surprisingly easy to get used to. Because they take up so much space, treadmill desks tend to be restricted to home office use.
2. Improve Your Posture
Working in an office all day is all but certain to mess up your posture. Using a standing desk will prevent some of that — perhaps even most — but you’ll still need to take active measures to correct your slouching habits.
Most of the postural issues that stem from working at a desk tend to involve having the body bent forward, due to leaning over a computer. Picture it: Your head craned forward, your shoulders rounded forward, lower back pain from constantly slouching in your chair, and upper back pain from hunching over your computer. Ouch.
It's also worth mentioning that taller people tend to have more postural issues, since they don’t usually get taller desks to match their height.
Postural correction for desk workers thus tends to involve loosening up the back, neck, and shoulders, and stretching the spine backwards.
A good exercise for this is laying on your back on a Swiss ball and extending your arms out behind your head, stretching the entire spine backward. For added shoulder correction, hold a pair of light dumbbells in your hands so the weight presses your arms down and — as a result — pushes your shoulders back.
Exercise mats, such as the Spartan Exercise Mat, are also useful for stretching out your back and neck, and can even be taken to the office with you. Cobra Pose is the best stretch for counteracting forward head and back posture.
Finally, daily sessions with a Spartan RAMroller can help loosen up your muscles, so they’re able to return to their natural positions after a long day at your desk.
3. Train a Little Bit Every Day
Although exercising can’t singlehandedly make up for sitting all day, you still need to exercise. Ideally, go beyond standing, walking, and stretching.
Short, daily workouts have two big advantages. First, doing anything daily makes it easier to build into a habit.
Second, short workouts maximize your exercise productivity. Since you’re fresher at the beginning of a workout, you can run faster, lift harder, and need less rest. The longer a workout goes on, the more you have to either spend time resting or slow the pace to avoid tiring yourself out. Short workouts — around 20 to 30 minutes — allow you to get a lot done and quit while you’re ahead.
Go full body with your gym workouts, but be sure to include exercises that will help to fix your posture by extending the spine or pushing the shoulders back, such as Romanian deadlifts, reverse flies, cable rows, and rearward neck flexion.
4. Go For a Walk in the Sun
Going outside, walking, and being exposed to sunlight are all crucial for your health — both physical and mental.
Physically, regular sun exposure protects you from cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and hypertension.
Mentally, sunlight improves cognitive function and protects against depression and fatigue. While this is largely due to increased vitamin D production, it’s also at least partly due to sunlight, so a vitamin D supplement can’t fully make up for not seeing the sun.
You can stay fit and healthy if you work at a desk all day, but it requires both adjusting your work habits and taking other steps to compensate.