It may not be good for your body, but eating lunch at your desk and working late is much better for your career than dashing off to the gym at the stroke of 5 p.m. But while your workload is probably preventing you from making that 5:30 fitness class every day, avoiding inactivity -- the state of non-movement that leads to numerous cardiac, metabolic and pain problems -- is more doable than you’d think.
Why is it so important to stay off the couch -- or away from the cubicle? Because the human body isn’t designed to sit still, says Galen Cranz, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, who holds a doctorate in sociology. She applies her design expertise to the human body. Our joints are fluid, she says, and human bodies are filled with smaller muscles that can only hold stress for very short periods. How can we keep a body designed like that active in the office? By incorporating movement into your day whenever possible. Start with these five ideas:
Get an adjustable standing desk, stat. The benefits of standing desks can’t be understated. The simple act of standing up during the day burns fat, says Marc Hamilton, a professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center who holds a doctorate in exercise physiology and whose research on sedentary rats has pioneered the field of inactivity physiology. "Hold on!" you might well say. "If just standing up can burn fat, what am I doing at the gym?" Well, when you carry weight in your legs, tiny muscles there activate the fat-burning enzyme lipoprotein lipase, which removes fats from the bloodstream. You can boost the fat-burning benefits by trying an adjustable standing desk like this one, which adjusts from 26 to 46 inches tall, allowing you to sit when you’re tired. No need to spend lots of money, though: Your setup can be as simple as an EKBY VIKTOR wall shelf ($6) and brackets ($8) from IKEA, positioned so that your arms rest at a comfortable 90-degree angle -- or any other creative IKEA hacks.
Multiple office workstations. Why stand all day, especially if you don’t have to? Mix it up and create different spaces for your body to work in: perhaps a standing area, a typical desk-and-seat area and a low seat where you can sit cross-legged (try a couple of dense meditation floor pillows). Any cubicle-sized space should suffice -- you can transform a regular desk into a standing desk by stacking two wooden milk crates on it and placing your keyboard on top. Then stash them under the desk when you’re sitting. As you feel like it during the day, switch.
Ban chairs. Say goodbye to those 90-degree-angle chairs with arms. They’re like little cages for the body. You can’t possibly move laterally. Instead, replace them with more flexible seating options, such as an exercise ball, the Swopper chair ($525, www.swopper.com), the HAG by Capisco ($825 at www.ergodepot.com) or a bar stool, which is great for keeping your weight balanced in the lower half of your body.
Walk and talk. Stanford University business lecturer Nilofer Merchant recently raised eyebrows with an article she wrote in the Harvard Business Review, in which she suggested replacing coffee meetings with walks. “I now average four meetings, and 20 to 30 miles each week,” she writes -- and she no longer needs to take time away from work to exercise. She also finds that she’s a better listener when walking alongside someone, and less distracted by the Internet.
Get isometric… stealthily. It’s easy to flex those muscles without your boss noticing. Jessica Bottesch, the co-owner of Empower Personalized Fitness in Durham, North Carolina, suggests exercises you can do without detection. Hold each for five seconds; relax for one second and do 15 to 20 repetitions.
1. Legs: Raise your behind an inch off the chair. Hold for five seconds; sit back down for one second. Repeat.
2. Shoulder depressions: Sit up straight with your hands on your lap. Pull your shoulder blades down your back. Squeeze them down the back, as if trying to pinch a pencil between them and hold for five seconds. Relax, and repeat.
3. Core: Sit up straight and tighten your pelvis as if you were stopping urine. Contract your belly button toward the spine, bearing down in a tight contraction. Relax.
4. Chest: Press your hands flat against the desktop, with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Push as if you’re pushing yourself away from the desk. (Remember to lock your chair wheels!)
5. Biceps: Place your hands below the desk, and press up.
6. Triceps: Place your palms on your desk with your elbows bent at 90-degree angles. With your upper arms locked by your side, press down on your desktop as if you were trying to straighten both arms.