This week I gave a lunchtime talk about fitness at a local law firm. The firm has a group committed to health and fitness, and they provide a weekly lunchtime yoga class as well as a lecture series. When they asked their yoga instructor–the multi-talented Molly O’Neill–to suggest a speaker for a talk on fitness, she recommended me. Of course, “fitness” is a pretty broad topic, so I asked them if they had any particular topics in mind. It turned out they had something very specific in mind: office exercise.
As someone who usually teaches group exercise in gyms, I knew this would take some careful thought and preparation. Pretty quickly I decided that Functional Fitness would form the heart of my presentation. Because offices offer limited space and time, small scale exercises that contribute to overall ease of movement, reduce risk of injury, and ultimately improve quality of life seemed like a logical choice. Plus, knowing that Molly was offering yoga on a weekly basis meant that I could focus on complementing her work on flexibility, breathing, and stress reduction.
To be brutally honest, desk work can put the body at risk. One study revealed the staggering effects of habitual sitting: “men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less” (“Is Sitting a Lethal Activity“). Since many occupations necessitate prolonged sitting, simply telling my audience not to sit was not a sensible option. There are, however, two parts of the day where office people can easily integrate more physical activity and break up a “long sit”: commutes and brief breaks.
For the commute:
- Take the stairs (this office happened to be on the 19th floor, so I suggested getting off on the 17th or 18th and taking the remainder on foot)
- Park the car a bit farther away from the office
- For those taking public transportation, choose a train or bus stop that will force you to walk an extra block or two
Core Stability: these exercises can help prevent low back pain and injury while lifting objects from the floor or a table. Although many people immediately think crunches when they thing core stability, crunches can reproduce some of the same postural problems caused by sitting: Why-Crunches-Dont-Work-Your-Abs. Consequently, I recommended planks and single-leg balance exercises (like Tree Pose). I demonstrated a basic plank/hover and side plank done on the forearms and knees on top of the conference table. Later (see below), the group tried a modified table plank–forearms on the table, feet on the floor–a simple but effective variation.
Weight-Bearing Exercises: after a quick Q&A, I invited everyone to try a few exercises that could easily be done during short breaks.
- Squats: to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings, reproduce a move we do every time we get out of a chair, and promote mobility and balance
- Tricep Dips (we did these from a chair): these reproduce the action of the elbow joint when returning something to a high shelf. They strengthen the triceps, engage the chest muscles to assist, and tone the backs of the arms
- Single-Arm Rows (we did these with a waterbottle and in a lunge position): terrific for strengthening the middle back (esp latissimus dorsi) and thereby counteracting the pitfalls of prolonged sitting
- Incline Pushups: as one of the best functional fitness exercises, these require no extra equipment, engage multiple muscle groups (chest, glutes, the entire core), and actually reproduce an action we do all the time (getting up, pushing off or away from things). We did these with our hands on the conference table, but I also demonstrated wall pushups as an option
Any of these exercises can be done in a small space and during a short break. Doing something as simple as 5 tricep dips and 5 desk pushups before lunch or setting a goal of 10 squats every Friday can make a difference over time. The audience responded with great enthusiasm to my short presentation. In fact, it was their response that prompted me to turn that presentation into this blog post. I hope you enjoy it too!