If you are sitting down right now and reading this article, think of your organs, idling beneath the flesh, waiting for your brain to give them some direction. There’s probably not much going on in there right now, is there? The heart is pleading for the opportunity to pump a little harder. The liver begs for a reason to secrete some glycogen and fuel your muscles for strenuous activity. And the muscles? Let’s not go there. Your muscles are not talking to you right now. They are very angry with you and ready to seize on you the next time you stand up.
If you make your way in the world by sitting at a desk, you may let entire days pass without moving the way your body was intended. Solving the world’s problems from a conference table is certainly a noble profession, but caveats lurk in your workspace. Compared to the daily hazards of a coal miner, deep sea crab fisherman, oil rig worker or underwater demolition expert, one can argue that no job presents more of a threat to your health than one that keeps you sedentary all day.
Compared to the daily hazards of a coal miner, deep sea crab fisherman, oil rig worker or underwater demolition expert, one can argue that no job presents more of a threat to your health than one that keeps you sedentary all day.
Before you quit your job at the firm to pursue life as a backcountry wilderness guide, you should know that there is hope for the office crowd to stay fit. You can bring wellness into the workplace, and get your fellow sedentary workers out of their office chairs and into the fitness lifestyle. We devote this article to the sufferers of desk jockey syndrome who seek to reclaim the vigor of life.
Get out of your seat!
Modern technology tells us that you have read through almost 300 words and have likely been seated the whole time. Before we explore the science behind movement as a means of pain reduction, let us begin with the practical. Stand up and stretch. Go ahead; the article will be here when you sit down again.
Do you feel better now? If the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints has been lying dormant, any amount of movement will reinvigorate it. The same goes for blood flow. Regular activity will prevent blood from pooling inside a particular muscle. Your nervous system, when stimulated through movement, will increase brain activity in ways that many rely on caffeine to do.
Human problems, corporate solutions
Perhaps the problem can also provide the solution. If the office causes so many sedentary health hazards, then it can also give employees a remedy. However, companies counteract the crisis of the cubicle with corporate wellness programs that usually fail. Corporate wellness usually serves the people in the workforce who already like to exercise. If the problem in your office is that employees want to go to the gym but can’t afford it, then the solution is to pay for gym memberships or install a fitness center in the office. In the real world, less than five percent of the workforce will engage in a typical corporate fitness program.
If your employer comes to you asking for suggestions for a wellness program, think about looking for a full-service wellness company. They should address exercise for non-athletes, nutrition for people who believe that "diet" is a four-letter word, and mental health without calling in the EAP emergency squad. In the meantime, there are ways to stay active and keep your body limber and your mind sharp.
Expand your priorities
As trainers, we usually see two objectives in the gym – muscle building and calorie burn. Should those be your only concerns, you can wait until the end of the workday to hit the treadmill or dumbbell circuit. On the other hand, if you have more holistic goals such as self-preservation in mind, you have to maintain constant motion all day. You need a small exercise routine that you can do in your work setting and repeat periodically throughout the day.
As you prepare your desk routine, aka office jam, aka break room boogie, ask yourself one question: How silly are you willing to look? Chances are sweatbands and ankle weights are out of the question. The good news is that you can exercise at a much lower intensity than your normal gym regimen. The calories burned and muscles taxed are irrelevant! What matters is movement of all major joints in the body in all possible directions while in a standing position. It sounds complicated yet is so simple. Let’s take a detailed look at the parts of the body most affected by prolonged sitting and inactivity:
Reach into your front pockets and feel the muscles underneath. Those are called hip flexors, known technically as iliopsoas muscles (silent P). Sit at a desk for eight hours a day and those muscles will shorten over time. Stand up with tightened hip flexors and you might find your body pitched forward, putting strain on your back. Once your back pain becomes unbearable, you will likely go to the doctor, who will write you a script for painkillers and tell you to stay off your feet. Outsmart your doctor and move your body before the pain sets in.
The term “back” is a very vague term, as it refers collectively to the spinal column, trunk, and several muscles that control movement of the shoulder. If you suffer from back pain, you probably feel it in the lumbar region. You can ice or heat it all day, but you will never fix the problem that way. Here’s something that your pill-pushing doctor didn’t tell you -- the pain does not manifest where the problem is. The real issue in your back is far away from where you might think it is. You feel pain where your body can no longer compensate. The same rule applies to your neck. Somewhere in your body the muscles are too tight. The first culprits are the muscles that rotate your hip. The head of your femur fits into your pelvic girdle and will lock in place if you don’t move it. Rotate both sides several times and then stretch your hamstrings and inner thighs. If you have never done this before, a word of caution: it feels awesome!
Hands and wrists
“Ergonomic chair” is one of the great oxymorons, along with jumbo shrimp and average billionaire. Prolonged sitting hurts your body, no matter how expensive the furniture. Make sure that you stretch your arms from shoulder to fingertip in order to take undue strain off of your finger joints and carpal tunnel. There is absolutely no reason for you to need surgery from having your hands in the wrong position for hours at a time.
Psoas I was saying …
When you come home from work in the evening, it shouldn't hurt to get out of the car. If your kids race to greet you in the driveway, you should have enough spring in your step to race them back to the house. You work hard for quality of life, shouldn't you have the energy and well-being to enjoy it? Movement throughout the day and an office culture that promotes health and vitality will give you the vigor to live the quality of life that you earn.
Editor's note: Several breaks were taken during the writing of this article to stretch and move in all directions