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How to stay active when you work behind a desk all day

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 11:11 a.m. CDT

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A lack of physical activity, particularly if it’s combined with work-related stress, can threaten your overall health. According to physician members of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, building fitness and healthy food choices into your daily office routine can make a big difference in your physical and mental well-being. Summer is gone, which means those beach vacations, bike rides and long walks through the park most likely have disappeared along with the warmer temperatures. But just because you’re stuck at your office desk every day doesn’t mean you have to endure aches, pains and hours of sitting in the same position. Follow these tips to stay active even while in the office.

“Today, most Americans spend a lot of time sitting,” said Ralph Schmeltz, M.D., 2011 president of PAMED and an internal medicine specialist. “That’s not necessarily good for flexibility, muscular strength and the health of our lungs and heart.”

The physician members of the Pennsylvania Medical Society offer the following ideas for incorporating fitness and health into the office setting:

• Step. Walk as much as possible through the workday. Park far from the office entrance. Take the steps instead of the elevator. Make rounds in the office. Take a walk during lunch.

• Stretch. Take a few moments to perform stretches you can do in the office. Throughout your workday, try doing some stretches for your shoulders, back, arms, hips and legs. The Mayo Clinic offers videos displaying office-friendly stretches.

• Move. Body weight exercises can be easily performed in the office, such as toe raisers, seated leg extensions, book curls and overhead presses, stair climbs and wall push-ups.

• Balance. Replace your desk chair with an exercise ball.

• Cleanse. Don’t forget to practice good hygiene to help fight the spread of colds and flu. Wash your hands regularly. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.

Cut the Snacking

Marilyn J. Heine, M.D., 2012 president of PAMED and a hematologist-oncologist and emergency medicine specialist, added that office workers can’t slouch on diet and nutrition if they want to be healthy.

“Once you’re back in the office and less active, it’s too easy to fall into a routine of snacking the wrong way and overeating at lunch,” she said. “Vending machines are often filled with candy and chips while oversized lunch portions are the norm in many restaurants.”

Heine recommends carrying a water bottle to the office rather than hitting the soda machine. Healthy snacks such as fruit and vegetables are the smart choice. If veggies are on hand, you’ll be less likely to reach for candy instead. PAMED physicians also recommend that if you must eat out at lunch, consider a salad or ask for a doggie bag so you don’t eat an entire oversized restaurant portion.

Heine also praised the 5-2-1-Almost None formula developed by Nemours, a health system for children, and pointed out that it offers good advice for adults too. Essentially, this formula recommends eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day; limiting recreational computer or TV screen time to no more than 2 hours a day; getting at least 1 hour of physical activity a day; and drinking almost no sugary beverages.

“In addition to the formula developed by Nemours, I also suggest to patients that they drink eight glasses of water a day,” Heine added. “This is a pretty good base formula for all of us to follow.”

Content courtesy of LiveHealthyIowa.com.

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