Physical fitness does more than support a healthy body and help maintain your weight. In fact, physical fitness may also have a lot to do with how well you perform at work. While your boss may expect long hours in front of a computer, they also need employees who value their health, nutrition, and fitness.
This reduces their insurance overhead and improves your productivity and creativity. Before looking at some of the ways you can stay physically active at work, let’s talk about how physical fitness and activity can help further your own career goals.
Exercise Improves Productivity and Brain Function
You enjoy a boost in self-confidence that comes with being and staying physically fit. When you share this information with your management, they may help support your efforts to maintain activity at work!
In your effort to raise your productivity level and gain a competitive edge over your colleagues, you may have been pushing harder and longer to hit your boss’s deadlines. But many times, this can leave you feeling burned out and cranky. While you may be looking at that cup of coffee to keep you going through your day, the missing link in your productivity plan just may just be exercise at work.
One study with 201 participants found exercising at work improved their mood and performance, as 72% reported improving their time management and 74% raised their output. Another study of six dental offices found when work was reduced by 2.5 hours each week with mandatory exercise during those hours, the participants raised their productivity and reduced their sick time.
Your mental strength and energy are directly linked to your physical strength. And you know you’ll be more creative and productive if you could just get rid of your stress at work, right? One study showed directly after 15 minutes of exercise people could concentrate better, had lower stress and a sharper memory.
Exercise at Work May Lower Healthcare Costs and Lengthen Your Life
If raising your productivity rate isn’t enough to convince you or your boss that a little movement and exercise during the day is good for business, then it’s important to know that sitting all day can increase your risk of disease and dying, which is definitely NOT good for you or your boss’s insurance costs.
Although you may have been getting up early to get your workout in before work, studies have shown that sitting for hours each day raises your risk of disease and death. One study found people who sat more than six hours each day and had lower levels of physical activity, had a higher rate of death.
But you exercise right? So, you’re protected from this “sitting disease,” or so you think.
Another study found even people who reported exercising up to seven hours each week had a 50% increased risk of all-cause mortality when they sat for hours each day. Sitting for hours each day is associated with heart disease and diabetes, which are two of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.
Enough with the Studies! How Do You Make This Work?
Ok, you’re convinced that moving and light exercise at work can help improve your productivity, reduce your risk of early death and will help maintain your physical fitness. And now you have the research to convince your boss that it is beneficial for his business too.
The next question is, how do you make this work at your workplace? Not everyone works at a company with an in-house gym!
If you work at a small business, with limited space and resources, you still have options that can help improve your productivity, help maintain your fitness and lower your risk of chronic disease. Here are seven ways to workout at work without a gym.
1. Stand and Stretch
You may not think of standing and stretching as a workout, but compared to sitting in one place while moving only your fingers and neck all day, nearly anything else could qualify! Ok, standing and stretching are not “technically” working out, but they are ‘movement’, which is just as important to your health and productivity.
Stretching and strengthening are also key components to lowering your risk of lower back pain, which experts estimate will impact 80% of adults in their lifetime. Stretching is also a good way of quickly relieving muscle and mental stiffness from stress.
Remember to stretch both sides of your body evenly and don’t over stretch. Try setting an alarm on your phone or computer for every 20 to 30 minutes as a reminder to get up, move and stretch. Here are a couple you can do standing next to your desk:
V for Victory
Standing tall with your shoulders, hips and knees aligned, reach your hands above your head. Spread your hands beyond your shoulders so they form a V-shape. Reach for the ceiling while keeping your feet flat to the floor. Hold for five to 10 seconds.
Poor sitting posture can over stretch your upper back muscles. Do this stretch only if you are sitting with good posture, described below. Otherwise, you’ll be stretching muscles that are overstretched and may contribute to upper back pain.
Stand or sit straight. Reach your hands forward, parallel to the floor. Slowly round your upper back and reach forward with your hands. Hold for three to five seconds.
Sitting can tighten your calf muscles. If you’ve been tapping it out (described below), you’ll appreciate a quick calf stretch throughout the day. You can do easy calf stretches while seated at your desk or against the wall.
While sitting straight, extend your right leg forward and push your heel forward drawing your toes toward your head. Hold for a couple of seconds and repeat with your left leg. This won’t help extend your range of motion, but it will help stretch the muscle and keep flexibility throughout the day.
2. Walk for Lunch or Meetings
Walking may be one of the easiest, simplest and most beneficial exercises you can do during your workday. You feel like it’s not nearly as taxing as your normal gym workout, but it is as beneficial to your health, productivity and creativity.
- If you have 30 minutes for lunch, try eating in 10 and walking for 20.
- Consider walking with a partner who can help keep you moving.
- If you don’t have a partner, consider music in one ear bud to help you keep pace, keeping one ear open for traffic.
Sitting in office meetings can get dull. In the middle of the afternoon you may even doze off. Never a good look at the office. Most people resort to increasing their caffeine intake to stay alert, but increased amounts of caffeine can be harmful. Instead, consider initiating walking meetings when there are just two or three of you and no one needs to take copious notes.
Use a talk-to-text notepad on your smartphone to keep track of what you need to remember and enjoy the added brain power that comes when your blood is moving and more oxygen is reaching your brain.
3. Nitric Oxide Dump
That’s a funny name for an exercise! It was developed by Dr. Zach Bush who is triple board certified in endocrinology, internal medicine and hospice. He also calls the exercise the 4-minute workout. Although it doesn’t take long, it focuses on your largest body muscle groups for a short, but intense amount of time.
One goal of the exercise is to release nitric oxide stored in your arteries. In this short video he explains the interaction nitric oxide has in your body, and demonstrates the workout to release nitric oxide. As he explains, there are no hand weights or other equipment needed to get the benefits from the exercise. And, realistically, you don’t want to be working so hard in your work clothes that you need a shower.
Start with 10 repetitions and 3 sets of all the exercises. You can gradually work up to 20 repetitions for 3 sets if you want. Before starting to increase the repetitions it’s important to get the form and speed correct to help generate nitric oxide from your big muscle groups.
There are four exercises to the Nitric Oxide Dump that are done in quick succession as he demonstrates in the video While you may feel silly doing this next to your desk, it’s easy to do in the break room, outside or even in the bathroom since you never touch the floor. This exercise will get your blood pumping, open your arteries and deliver more oxygen to your brain, which helps improve your productivity. In other words, this exercise provides multiple benefits, including:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower stress response
- Increase blood supply
- Strengthen large muscle groups
- Improves flexibility
- Improves productivity and creativity
4. Tap it out
This little gem won’t be winning awards for strength training or cardiovascular fitness, but it does keep your blood moving in your legs and your ankle joints flexible. It’s meant to be done while sitting and can help fill the gaps in your daily movement routine when you’re focused on a task and don’t feel like you can take a break. If you’re adventurous and don’t mind a little attention in the workplace, you can do a full tap sequence as well.
Tap into your inner dancer and tap your toes on the floor under your desk. You can make the movements larger by moving your feet forward and back, tapping your toes to the floor behind your knees and your heels to the floor in front of your chair.
5. Switch Your Workstation Equipment
You can increase your muscle work by making a few changes to your workstation. Some employers are happy to help you make changes that improve productivity and lower the number of sick days at work. Other employers may need a bit more information and encouragement. Some of these workstation changes can be done on your own without disrupting the workflow, and others may require permission.
You can increase your muscle activation by switching your chair to an exercise ball or wobble stool. There are pros and cons to using either, and it is not a good idea to suddenly switch for the entire day. The exercise ball increases the amount of contact in your bottom and upper legs with the “chair,” which can lead to fatigue and may cause some lower back pain.
The wobble stool works on the same principle of having a rounded bottom to the stool that requires more core activation to remain upright, but has a smaller seat that approximates a regular stool. In either case, you absolutely must use proper posture the entire time you’re sitting on the stool or ball or you’re defeating the purpose and increasing your risk of muscle aches and pains.
You don’t need to purchase a whole new desk to be able to stand and work. There are desk platforms that raise and lower your computer, allowing you to stand while working. They are much less expensive than a new desk and your manager may not care that you bring your own to work.
However, it’s important to remember that standing in one place all day is as damaging to your lower extremities and lower back as sitting all day. Instead, your standing option can be used for 10 or 15 minutes every hour or two to break up the constant sitting.
This piece of equipment is exactly as it sounds. There is a small treadmill that moves slowly with a desk that spans the top where you place your computer. Treadmill desks are functional when you’re reading or dictating, but it makes writing or manipulating numbers or images very taxing. When you’re using a laptop, your boss may be interested in having one or two treadmill desks in the office for people to use throughout the day.
Under Desk Exercise Equipment
Another option to keep your body moving is an under-desk cycle or stepper. These little devices can be brought in from home and allow you to use them whenever you choose without disrupting the rest of the office.
6. Dips, Wall Sits and Squats, Oh My!
Although you don’t have the time and energy at work to do a full-strength routine, these are three body weight exercises that do not require you to get flat or work for more than a couple of minutes. By spreading them out throughout the day, you can easily make a difference in your muscle tone over a couple of weeks.
Your triceps may be one of the more overlooked muscles in your upper body. This simple exercise can be done using your office chair if you have one without wheels. A low desk may also work.
Put your back to your chair (or desk), bend your knees and place the palms of your hands on the chair with your fingers curling under the seat. Now raise and lower yourself using your arms Be sure your hands are shoulder width apart and you only go down as far as you are comfortable.
This exercise is good for your glutes, thighs and core. Rest your back on the wall and move your feet away, bending your knees until it looks like you may be sitting on a chair. The wall should support your back. Start by holding the position for 15 seconds and work up to holding it for 2 minutes.
These are effective for your lower body, especially for lifting and firming your glutes. It’s important to do them correctly to help improve your results and lower the risk of injury. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Extends your hands in front to help with balance. Bend your hips and knees as if you are going to sit in a chair. Don’t let your knees go past your toes.
Press your weight into your heels as you go up and down. Go as low as you are comfortable and come back to the start position.
7. Sit Right and Reduce Pain
Good posture helps reduce headache and back pain. It involves teaching your body how to sit, stand and walk using good body mechanics. When you sit in a forward position, it stretches the nerves and muscles at the neck, which can lead to muscle pain and headache. It also stretches the muscles in the upper back and tightens your chest muscles. This can lead to upper back strain and pain. Slouching in a chair puts added pressure on your lower back, increasing your risk of low back pain.
Following the steps to good posture activates more of your core, chest and upper back muscles. Sit with your feet flat to the floor, and your ankles, knees and hips at 90 degrees right angles. Distribute your weight evenly over both hips. Keep your chin up and your head balanced over your shoulders. This is easier when the top one third of your computer monitor is at eye level.
Following these exercises daily at work will help improve your fitness level, reduce muscle loss from being sedentary all day and reduce your risk of back pain and chronic disease. Using these techniques may also improve your productivity at work and keep you motivated for your next workout!