Get off the Couch (or Chair)
You might have read about the recent study that pinned disastrous health consequences with "sedentary lifestyles." Unfortunately, most of us who toil in the tech industry are pretty sedentary, spending our days (and often our nights) parked in front of our computers. Are we pretty much doomed if we can't dedicate an hour or more a day exercise?
Not at all, says Rachel Permuth-Levine, who's the director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Center for Employee Wellness and Health Promotion; that attitude is common, but she says it's also damaging to people's motivation to stay healthy. Short bouts of activity can improve one's health, resulting in less neck tension, less eye strain, more freedom in your wrists -- something we'd all like to enjoy.
So how do we get up and moving?
Photo courtesy of oddsock
Photo is of Dr. Josh Axe, performing burst training in his cube!
Permuth-Levine suggests some simple yoga exercises you can do at the office. There's a series of videos she recommends that can walk you through stretches that you can do right in your cube.
If you're looking for an exercise regimen that's higher-energy, you might want to try burst training, recommended by nutrition consultant Jesse Erickson. "Burst training involves exercising at 90 to 100 percent of your maximum effort for 30 to 60 seconds in order to burn your body's stored sugar," he says, "followed by 30-60 seconds of low impact for recovery. This causes your body to burn fat for the next 36 hours to replace your body's vital energy stores. Try running in place in front of your desk, or doing jumping jacks or squats."
Force a Break: Drink!
One of the most important things to do to keep active is just to literally keep active -- to not allow your day to vanish with your rear end never leaving the chair. But your instinct may well be to pound away on your work, and 5 p.m. arrives before you know it. How can you fool yourself into staying active?
Linda S. Jassmond Lanfear, a personal trainer, has a number of crafty tips, but this is the one I found most devious: "Drink water: it will make you get up to go to the bathroom." She also suggests using the stairs rather than the elevator. (Sadly, many office buildings reserve the stairs for emergencies only, forcing you to ride the elevator even if you're only going one floor.)
Picture courtesy Lori Spindler
To hear a lot of the experts I spoke to talk, you'd think that chairs are were a terrible torture device designed by the Spanish Inquisition. It seems that a lot of the unhealthiness of sitting comes from ... sitting. Eric Plasker, chiropractor and health and wellness expert, urges you not to be a "crooked sitter." "A crooked sitter sits on his or her foot," he explains. "This keeps the body in a twisted position and leads to stiff muscles, pressure on the nerves, and long-term spinal problems. Maintain good posture, sit up straight and don't sit on your foot!"
What's the key to keeping avoiding these bad habits? You might want to trade in your chair for a physioball like the one shown above. "Sitting on a ball as an office chair increases body awareness, improves balance, engages core muscles, and improves posture," says Gabriela Masala, a choreographer and consultant. "Further the ball can be used for mini stretch breaks.
Maybe you need to stop sitting altogether. "The best thing for computer-based workers to do is stand up," says Chris Sorrells, an occupational therapist and president of ErgonomicsSimplified.com. "Add a sit-to-stand keyboard tray and adjustable monitor arm to the desk. This will let you work in your current seated position, but also stand up to work for part of the day as well. Changing positions lets you work and rest different groups of muscles through the day, and burn more calories! Another option is to have a taller desk that allows you to stand and do all of your tasks (reading, writing, computing, etc.) and use an ergonomic stool. This is taller and has a footring to support your feet."
Picture courtesy of Kankie
It may have begun to occur to you that your computer is in cahoots with your chair. After all, you wouldn't be in that chair if you didn't have to look at your computer, now would you? But you can turn your computer (and other gadgetry) to the goal of keeping moving and keeping fit.
Amy Calhoun Sanchez, a physical therapist at a Los Angeles hospital, recommends a program called Ergo Pro. "It is on a timer and automatically pops up every 20 minutes and has the person do a few exercises before returning to their screen," she says. "People tell me that they did not realize how fast 20 minutes went by. They realized that they were sitting in place much longer than they thought before getting up."
And finally, physical therapist thinks that computer geeks can get fit with good old fashioned video games -- the kind that get you to move around. "I am not kidding when I say this, I met with an executive group of a large company last week and the HR Benefits Coordinator mentioned looking into paying employees to play Wii Fit," physical therapist Bryce Taylor says. "Now I don't know if she was referring to the onsite fitness center or possibly a break room setup -- whatever the case, that's forward thinking."
Picture courtesy of netstrolling
Finally, since everything tech must have a social networking component these days, we offer these sites that can connect you with your friends (or total strangers) in the interest of fitness:
Holosfitness.com is a free online tool with hundreds of exercises posted with step-by-step instructions, many of which are geared towards office workers and activities that can be performed in the office or while traveling on the road. The social networking aspect of the site helps to support and motivate users.
Limeade is a service that promotes its social networking aspects as an avenue for smack talk. It includes a challenge feature, where users can challenge peers or whole departments to wellness-related goals ("The IT department challenges the accounting department to take lunch-break walks four days next week!"). On the geekier side, Limeade has APIs to help any mobile device integrate -- and help engineers and employees earn gifts, status, and even money toward health insurance premiums for achieving pre-set goals.
Break Pal is a combination desktop application/streaming video/social media site. The desktop application (currently based on Yahoo! Widgets, but in the process of being ported to Adobe Air) pops up at predetermined intervals, then directs you to a short office-safe exercise, based on anything from qi gong, to yoga, to martial arts, to dance moves.
At this point, you've been reading the article for quite a bit. Don't you think it's time you got out of your chair?