Introduction: The Complete Desk Job Fitness Guide

About: I am a 23 year old grad student studying to become a physical therapist. I have always loved crafting. I find it so hard to get a gift as special as the person I am getting it for so I often make my own gifts…
As technology has made our lives easier, we find more and more of our jobs to be behind desks on computers, phones and doing paperwork.  Sadly, sitting for prolonged periods of time has had negative effects on employee health.  Studies have shown that the decrease in physical activity in the workplace has contributed the rise in the obesity epidemic.  A 14-year study conducted by the American Cancer Society concluded that those who sit for greater than 6 hours per day had a higher mortality rate than those who sat less.  "Prolonged time spent sitting, independent of physical activity, has been shown to have important metabolic consequences, and may influence things like triglycerides, high density lipoprotein, cholesterol, fasting plasma glucose, resting blood pressure, and leptin, which are biomarkers of obesity and cardiovascular and other chronic diseases," said Dr. Alpa Patel, the study’s leader.  Recently, a NJ Worker's Comp court ruled that prolonged sitting was to blame for an obese woman's death by a blood clot.  Prolonged sitting from desk jobs is also related to chronic neck and low back pain.

Is there any hope? Of course there is! Read on and this guide will give you simple and easy tips to combat the detrimental effects of a sedentary job.

Step 1: Control Your Methods to and From Work

A 2005 U.S. Census study found that 87.7% of workers drive to work.  Are you one of them?  Look at your more active options for getting to and from work.  Depending on your proximity to work you might be able to catch a morning and evening workout just on your commute!

Walk/run: If you live close to your workplace, this could be a good option. Plan a safe route with plenty of sidewalks and well lit areas. Also, pack a comfortable bag with extra fluids, weather gear and your work attire to change into when you get there.

Bike: Also a good choice for those within close proximity to their workplace and a bit quicker.  My brother used his commute to jump-start his fitness routine by completing his 3.5 mile commute on bike.  My boyfriend also stayed fit in college using his bike to sneak in daily exercise to and from school.  After graduating and starting a job where he drove, he noticed a significant difference in his overall energy and fitness levels.

Public transit: If you live in an area with accessible public transportation, you may be able to utilize it to also remain less sedentary.  Although many stops are very convenient, you will most likely have to walk a bit to your nearest stop and stand to wait, which is more physical activity than driving. Even just a simple 1/2 mile walk to the bus stop would help you burn an extra 80 calories per day! And get you out of the rush hour traffic...

If these seem a little hefty, try one of them one day per week to start out . The best thing about using your method to and from work for exercise is that it forces you to do it.  If you biked to work, then you will have to bike home whether you feel like it or not. 

Of course not all of these options are available to everyone. Sometimes you just have to drive.  But what about parking a little further and enjoying a stroll or jog to work?

Once you get to work, do you take the elevator or escalator ?  Try the stairs!  Remember that famous scene from Rocky where he's running up the stairs for straining? That could be you. You could burn an extra 20-40 calories per day with just one flight of stairs.  When I worked on the 12th floor of a building I would challenge myself to see how many flights of stairs I could do and then take the elevator for the rest.  Be advised, you might want to go to the water fountain before letting your coworkers see you huffing and puffing!

Step 2: Make Health-conscience Food Choices

Desk jobs often are the hub of unhealthy food choices with their soda machines and free donut days. Science has shown time and time again that the real key to weight loss/gain is calories.  Here are some tips to easily cut unnecessary calories at work

Always eat breakfast: Eating a good breakfast will control hunger and energy during the day.  Skipping this important meal will leave you starving by lunch making you prone to making unhealthy food choices and wreck your metabolism.  Look for high-fiber, high protein oatmeals and cereals.  If you don't have time in the morning, try a breakfast meal bar or shake to eat on the go. I would keep a box of Slim Fast meal bars in my car and eat them on my early morning commute when I didn't have time for breakfast.

Bring lunch as often as you can: The easiest way for me to do this was to buy a bunch of bags of ready made salad, low-cal dressing and croutons and a carton of low-sodium soup and fat free yogurt and just leave it at work in the fridge.  That way you don't have to fuss with preparing a meal each day and turning to unhealthy, quick alternatives.  Some people really like the health-conscious prepared frozen meals and stock them in the work fridge as well.  Just be sure to find ones that you enjoy and will fill you up.

Plan for meals out: Just because you want to stay fit doesn't mean you have to skip lunch out with coworkers. Look up the restaurant you are going to ahead of time.  Most places have their nutrition facts online.  You may be surprised, for instance a McDonalds McChicken sandwich has more calories and fat than their cheeseburger?  If you are going to a sit down restaurant, portions are often unnecessarily large.  Ask for a take out box and plan on eating half of the meal and saving the rest for the next day's lunch.

Skinny your coffee: Many desk job workers are also coffee fanatics. I was surprised to learn my favorite Starbucks drink, the Grande Iced Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha has a whopping 400 calories and 9 grams of fat! (That's more calories than a McChicken sandwich)  But did you know that you can ask for many of your favorite drinks to be "Skinny"? The same sized Skinny Flavored Latte would bring me down to only 180 calories.  Better yet, skip the coffee shop all together and brew yourself.  Check out the flavored creamer section of your grocery store and you can find fat-free creamer versions of your favorite coffee house selections.

Aquaify with H2O or low-sugar juices: You maybe have heard stories of weight loss when someone simply gives up their daily soda.  These drinks can pack lots of hidden calories, so just skip them.  Many people opt for juices instead, but also look at the nutrition value on these.  Many juices have added sugar or high fructose corn syrup to make them extra sweet.  Look for juices that say "100% juice" or "no sugar added".  The best choice to quench your thirst is simply water, but if you need some more flavor in the day, try bringing a jug of your favorite low-cal drink and leave it in the fridge to fight soda machine temptations.  I always left a jug of diet green tea in the fridge at work instead of going to the soda machine.  Crystal light also makes low-cal favor packet singles to flavor just one cup of water too.

Prepare for snacking: When you need a little pick-me-up at work, instead of turning to the vending machine snacks, plan ahead with healthier alternatives at your desk.  Keep a stash of healthy snacks like pretzels, crackers, fiber bars, or fat-free puddings in your desk.  The Snack-Pack Sugar-Free chocolate or caramel puddings are my favorite at only 80 calories for a rich, sweet, healthy, and cheap ($1 for 4 cups) snack.

Step 3: Move During the Day

The easiest way to make your sedentary job better for you is to make it less sedentary! Follow these simple steps to put a few more steps in your day.

Meet face-to-face: Instead of calling a coworker, emailing, or sending an instant message, why not get up and meet face-to-face?  Some things are better said in person anyway. This is an easy way to put a few more steps into your day and unchain you from your desk, and make your face known more around the office.

Make trips away from the desk: Send that document to a farther printer to get a few more steps in your day. Use a farther copier. Use a small water cup or coffee mug so you have to make trips to fill it. Don't use a trash can in your office; force yourself to get up and use a central one.

Stand when you can: Your body burns approximately 100 calories as hour just by standing. Going to be on a long phone call? Why not stand? Better yet, add some steps and pace a bit.  If you like to make notes to yourself, position a white board up so you have to stand up to write on it. Same with your calendar.  When visiting with coworkers, stand as well. In a big meeting with not enough chairs? Don't fight to grab a chair, offer it to a co-worker and stand for the presentation.

Fidget: There have been numerous studies on the benefits of fidgeting. The simple act of fidgeting can burn up to 350 calories a day! So tap your pen, swing your chair back and forth and tap your toes. These little movements add up over time making you a healthier person.

Use your lunch break: Instead of just staying seated during your lunch break, use this time to move freely. Is there a gym close by? Consider joining and using the machines on your lunch break.  You can also go for a nice walk or run during lunch. Increasing your time outside in the fresh air will also improve your mood versus staying inside all day.  If you are going out to eat, why not recommend somewhere everyone can walk to?

Studies have shown that just increasing your activity at work with these simple ways can significantly improve your long-term health.

Step 4: Stretch at Work

Prolonged sitting places many of your muscles in a shortened and compromised position. This can lead to chronic pain and overuse syndromes. Add these stretches into your day to help. Perform all stretches holding 20 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side releasing between reps for best results. You should only feel a stretch, never go into pain. Perform these once per day to combat the effects of sitting all day.

1. Grab and Leans(Sitting upper trap stretch): Sitting in your chair in good posture, hold onto the bottom of the seat and lean your body away. You should feel the stretch on the side of your neck of the arm that is holding on.

2. Figure Fours(Sitting piriformis stretch): Sitting in your chair, sit up very tall. Cross one leg so your ankle is on your mid thigh. Keeping your back straight bend forward only at your waist. You should feel this stretch in your bottom.

3. Ballerina stretch(Standing hamstring stretch): Stand and bring one leg up straight in front of you on a stable surface, such as a non-wheeled chair or desk. Keeping your back straight, hinge forward at your waist until you feel a stretch behind your upper leg. If the stretch is too intense, try it without bringing your leg up on anything, just straight in front of you. Bringing your leg higher makes the stretch more difficult

4. Vow and Turns(Standing pec stretch): Stand in a doorway, parallel to the wall. Raise one arm up to shoulder height like you are giving a vow, your hand should be flat against the wall. Angle your bodt away from your arm until you feel a stretch in your upper chest or back.

Step 5: Perform Sitting Exercise

Another good way to keep your sedentary job less sedentary is to move your body as you sit, versus keeping your lower body motionless. Below are some lower body exercises to keep you moving during the day.  Feel free to add ankle weights for an added challenge. Regarding repetitions, do to your comfort, but perform the entire set once every hour.

1. Kicks(long arc quad): Straighten each leg one at a time. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.

2. Marches(sitting hip flexion): Lift each knee up like you are marching in place. Perform 3 sets of 10 on each leg

3. Heel-toes (sitting heel and toe raises): Raise your heels up and then rock backwards to bring your toes up. Perform 30 of these. This exercise is probably the best to ward off deadly blood clots associated with prolonged sitting , so perform feel free to perform this throughout the day.

4. Shoulder rolls: Sit up in good posture. Raise your shoulders up towards your ears, then back towards your shoulder blades, then return to their original position. Perform 3 sets of 10 of these.

*Remember, the purpose of these exercises is to keep you moving during the day and doesn't replace a regular workout routine outside of work

Step 6: Wrap Up

The research concerning the effects of having a sedentary desk job is frightening. But there is definitely hope: make your sedentary job less sedentary . An interesting study performed by Mayo Clinic studied the effects of inactivity with increased calorie intake. Surprisingly, not all subjects gained weight. Those who did not pack on the pounds unconsciously moved around more during the day than those who did. And those little movements added up.

What about those who exercise regularly outside of work? Good. Keep it up. But even 3-5 hours of week of exercising is hard to combat ~40 hours of inactivity, don't you agree? Active people still need to employ these tips because it is the prolonged inactivity that is so dangerous.

Regarding what I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Won't I look silly stretching and moving around during the day?". Maybe. But the research is out there: looking silly is a lot better than the scary effects of inactivity.  If one of your co-workers asks what is up, share with them what you learned. Invite them to join you in your quest to be more active at work.  Share this instructable with your coworkers so you can fight the effects of inactivity together. It's better than being dead , right?
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