It’s a typical day at the office: Papers shuffling, phones ringing, emails multiplying — and barely enough time to squeeze in lunch. For eight hours a day — or maybe more — it’s you, a desk, a computer, and a chair. The chair that supports you through the daily stress.
The chair that spends more time with you than your family or friends.
The chair that may be affecting more than just your posture.
Kyle Snarski, an account manager for Millennial Media in Royal Oak, says he sits six to 10 hours a day.
He has noticed negative effects to his back, shoulders, and wrists. “It’s funny, my dad is a blue-collar worker, and he always talks about being on his feet all day and the pain it has caused him,” Snarski says. “Imagining myself at his age, it’s going to be weird explaining to my kids how sitting messed me up.”
Snarski isn’t alone. Those who spent the majority of their days sitting, even if they regularly exercise, have a 90 percent higher chance for developing diabetes than those who are active throughout the day. In addition, they have an 18 percent higher chance for getting cardiovascular disease, a 16 percent higher chance for dying prematurely, and a 13 to 16 percent higher chance for developing certain cancers, according to an analysis of 47 studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal.
“Sitting all day increases the risk for numerous disorders including [being] overweight and developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, and stress-related disorders,” says Dr. Bengt Arnetz, professor of Family and Preventive Medicine and chair in the Department of Family Medicine, College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University. “There are also reports of increased risk for back problems and other forms of musculoskeletal disorders.”
Arnetz says sitting is also associated with decreased energy and ability to concentrate on cognitively demanding tasks.
Increased physical activities are associated with increased health and well-being, Arnetz says. And while everyone knows that, the challenge is how to incorporate more physical activities into a workday.
Snarski tries to combat the effects of sitting by standing when he can, stretching throughout the day, and exercising before work.
Arnetz suggests incorporating walk-and-talk meetings, where possible.
“Find every excuse to walk,” says Pierre Vinson, owner of Give Fitness Personal Training Studio in Detroit. “Park farther away, use the stairs, walk on your lunch break, buy a pedometer, and track your progress.”
“Walking is a great exercise for those just getting started,” he adds. But if that’s too easy, he suggests adding (3- to 5-pound) dumbbells to your walks for a challenge.
Vinson suggests ditching the typical chair and opting for a stability ball, which works the body from head to toe while also helping posture. “The stability ball works the core, among other things,” he says.
There’s another exercise that is not as obvious that can have a big impact on your core. Think about “sucking it up.”
“Try to make your belly button touch your spine, hold it for 5 to 10 seconds, and repeat this throughout the day,” Vinson says. This works the transverse abdominal muscle — which sits under the “six-pack” — and also helps build a stronger core.
Another fast, powerful way to target legs, abdominals, and glutes is doing one-minute squats several times during the day. Squat while your lunch is heating up in the microwave. Squat while you’re making photocopies. Squat while you’re on hold, waiting for a call.
“Healthy competition amongst friends can help encourage you to get up and move more often.”
– Pierre Vinson
But don’t make it a solitary activity. “Create fitness challenges with co-workers,” Vinson says. “Working out with a partner helps with accountability, but it also helps if you’re not the only one doing squats by the microwave … healthy competition amongst friends can help encourage you to get up and move more often.”
Relieving Back Pain
Many people who sit in chairs for extended periods tend to have lower back pain, or at least some form of discomfort.
“The way to remedy this is to open the hips and hamstrings and to increase core strength,” says Kacee Must, owner of Citizen Yoga, which has locations in Detroit and Royal Oak.
“To do this while sitting in a chair, extend one leg straight and bring the other leg up and hug it to your chest,” Must says. “That will stretch out the front hip.”
Another chair-friendly stretch is called the gentleman’s pose.
“If you are seated, cross one ankle on top of the opposite knee while the other knee is bent; it’s named [after] the way men typically sit, but make sure your foot is flexed,” Must says. “This stretches the outer edge of the hip.”
Stretching the hip is beneficial for the lower back, since most back pain stems from tight hips and a tight lower back.
Focusing on breathing throughout the day, another aspect of yoga, can also relieve stress. “Trying to implement ujjayi breathing is important,” Must says. “Ujjayi breathing focuses on feeling the deep breath in the back of the throat, in and out through the nose, and not through the mouth.”
Must says focused breathing can help relax the nervous system, reducing stress. “You can focus on breathing even if you are just sitting in your chair,” she says.
“But if it were me, I would get out of the chair, walk around, and find someplace where you can walk and breathe — if you can change your shape, it will change your state.”
No more sad desk lunches
Tonia Reinhard, a registered dietitian and director of the Coordinated Program in Dietetics at Wayne State University, has some tips to up your midday meal game.
Sandwiches: Look for healthy bread that has 4 grams of fiber or more, add a lean source of protein, like chicken breast lunch meat, and then leafy greens, like spinach or kale. Be conscious of what you are spreading on your sandwich; mayonnaise is packed with calories and fat, while mustard is very low in calories and fat.
Smoothies: Smoothies can fit into a fast-paced lifestyle, where there is limited time to eat or prepare a lunch. Blending a smoothie is also a great way to incorporate healthy foods into your diet that you may not typically eat raw by themselves (see a recipe for her go-to smoothie on page 22). Reinhard says the ginger in her recipe adds antioxidants, while the yogurt adds protein and calcium, and the seed mix adds more protein and acts as a thickener for the shake.
Snacks: Raw vegetables, such as a mix of baby carrots and raw sugar snap peas, are an easy, healthy, and quick lunch to pack on the go that can last through the day. Nuts are also a good snack option since they are packed with nutrients and protein, but since nuts are high in calories, be aware of portion size.