You spend one-third of your day at work, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend that time without exercise. Knowing a few simple tips will help you fill your days with efficient workout breaks that not only keep you fit but relieve stress, too.
Anyone who has tried to start a new exercise routine knows that half the battle is just getting yourself to stick with it. Try these suggestions to keep yourself on track.
- Let your first step be two minutes of walking. Get off the bus one stop earlier.
- Use small holes in your schedule-between meetings or appointments, for example-to stretch your limbs or do simple exercises.
- Join a gym. Working out after work gives you an excuse to leave the office at a reasonable hour.
- When traveling on business, consider staying in hotels that have exercise rooms.
USE ACTIVITY CUES
People exercise regularly when reminded to do so. Maybe you need to find the right reminder.
- Wear a watch with a beeper.
- Write a reminder on your desk calendar.
- Put a note to yourself in your in-basket.
- Ask a co-worker to remind you at a certain time.
BREAK FOR EXERCISE
Think of your exercise time as a break from your workday, not as a chore. The following exercises outline a simple routine that you can do at your desk to stretch out those stiff muscles. Add or delete exercises to tailor the program to your own needs.
- Clock Stretch: This neck stretch is excellent for relieving the day’s tensions. Imagine you are facing the hands of a huge clock. Turn your head to the left to look at 9 o’clock, then look to the right, to 3 o’clock. Look up to 12 o’clock and then down to 6 o’clock. Do the movements slowly, feeling the stretch in your neck muscles.
- Shoulder Shrugs: Hunch your shoulders, moving them upward. Then rotate them forward, down, back, and up to your ears again. Do this slowly three times and then rotate them backward, down, forward, and up to your ears three times.
- Apple Picker: Stretch your arms as though you were picking apples from a tree. Stand or remain seated as you reach up with your left arm, then with your right, stretching as far as you comfortably can.
- Shoulder Stretch: While standing, reach behind you, grasping your hands behind your back. With your hands joined, lift your hands up as far as they will comfortably go. You should feel a stretch in the front of the shoulders.
- Simple Massage: With your fingertips, massage the muscles between your shoulder blade and spine. Use firm, circular movements, paying attention to any tenderness or knots you might feel.
- When doing any of these exercises, move only as far as is comfortable for you. Stop if you feel pain or great discomfort.
Any exercise counts. The benefits of simple routines, such as stretching or taking short walks, will add up when they are done often throughout the day.
COMMON OFFICE AILMENTS
Some aches are so common to office workers that doctors have labeled them “execupains.” Most are caused by a mix of tension and poor posture. Here are the most common office aches, and hints for avoiding them:
- Head and neck aches may be caused by cradling the phone with your shoulder or craning your neck to see the computer screen. Ease these aches with some gentle neck stretches, such as the Side-to-side Neck Stretch, as described in “Warming Up, Cooling Down,”. You can also try the Isometric Neck Press: Press the palm of your left hand against the side of your head while resisting the pressure and holding your head steady. Repeat with the other hand. This will build neck strength, perhaps making future neck aches less common.
- Sore jaws are often the result when people under pressure grind their teeth. Ease tension by opening your mouth halfway and gently swiveling your jaw left and right for 30 seconds.
- People who sit all day are vulnerable to backaches, as the back muscles do most of the work of supporting the body of a seated person. Get a good, ergonomically designed chair; change position and move around often.
- Stress often leads to shoulder pains, which in turn may cause pain along the arms. Try this stretch (pictured at left) to reduce tension: Bring your right arm in front of your body, across your chest. Hook your left arm under your right elbow and pull your right arm across the chest. Hold for 30 seconds, then release. Repeat this with your left arm.
- Leg pains often result from back pains, when aches in the lower back move downward.
- To stretch your gluteal muscles, sit in a chair and place your left ankle on your right knee. Hold your left knee with your left hand and your left ankle with your right hand. Simultaneously pull your left ankle and knee toward your right shoulder until you feel a stretch. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then release and
- repeat with the other side.
If you can’t change the stress, change the way you react to it.
- Aches and stiffness can be caused by sitting at computers or typewriters too long. Move around if you have been sitting longer than an hour.
- Make a point of taking a 10-minute break every day.
- To relax quickly, take four deep breaths, inhaling for seven seconds and exhaling for eight seconds.
LIMBER Up YOUR HANDS
If you work at a computer or typewriter, your hands may feel tense and stiff at the end of the day. Use these simple techniques to relax them.
Massage the inside and outside of one hand with the thumb and fingers of the other.
Gently pull your thumb down until you can feel the stretch. Hold this position for five seconds.
Grasp the fingers of one hand and gently bend back the wrist. Hold this position for five seconds.
Clench one fist tightly, hold the clench, and then release, fanning out your fingers. Do this five times.