Working in an office doesn’t have to mean the end of staying fit.
Even if your day is a mad dash of commuting on the subway and 10 – 12 hour days trapped inside a cubicle, there are plenty of little exercises you can do every day that can have a big impact on your health, according to fitness experts.
“For someone that is completely sedentary that is just looking to squeeze anything in, this is very helpful. It’s going to signal to your body that exercise is important,” said fitness expert Sheryl Dluginski, whose holistic exercise studio Generations Fitness is on East 75th Street the Upper East Side.
From quick stretches to a series of deep breaths, Dluginski shared some moves that can be done in 10 minutes or less without leaving your office, and without breaking a sweat.
Best Stomach-Strengthening Move at Your Desk: the Transversus Breath
One of the most subtle, but effective exercises you can do to strengthen your core is the transversus breath, a deep-breathing exercise that works your transversus abdominis, a core muscle in the abdomen.
“I’ve had people tell me that doing nothing but 10 transversus breaths a day has decreased their belt size by one-to-two loops, because you’re pulling in everything from the center,” said Dluginski. It’s a really subtle but powerful exercise to do.”
Start by sitting up straight in your office chair or your subway seat. Inhale through your nose, imagining that you are sending the air to the back and sides of your ribcage. On the exhale, draw your navel in and up, as if zipping up a tight pair of pants. Repeat five times to start, focusing on quality over quantity.
Not only are the breaths good for your core, they’re also good for reducing your stress levels fast, Dluginski said.
Breathing exercises calm the fight/flight/freeze response almost instantly, she said. Whenever you feel anxiety or stress coming on, start breathing, she said.
“You can stop that in it’s tracks just by taking five breaths. And if you add a stretch with that breath work it’s even better.”
Best Stretches for Computer Users: Chest-Expansion Stretch
For employees that spend most of their day typing at computer, Duglinski suggests a chest-expansion stretch.
Stand up, link arms behind your back and stretch them out straight behind your back, pushing your chest out at the same time.
This exercise is useful, Dluginski said, because it’s a counters the activity of keeping the arms in front of a computer.
Dluginski suggests holding the stretch for five deep inhales and five exhales. Holding for breaths rather than seconds can calm the muscles into the stretch, whereas counting the number of seconds just increases anxiety.
“If you’re tense while you’re stretching, the benefit is next to none. So what you need to do is relax into the stretch, and that’s what counting breaths does,” Dluginski said.
Best Antidote for a Long Day of Sitting: Leg Stretches
After 8 hours at a desk, your legs can tense up, sending problems up into your back and neck and potentially triggering tension and pain.
To counteract the problems, rotate through a few easy leg stretches:
Calf Stretch: Start by standing up, and leaning the ball of your foot against your desk. Lean forward into it until you feel a slight pull in your back of your calf. Hold for several breaths, and release.
Quad Stretch: To stretch out the front of your thighs, or quadriceps, stand close to your desk and place your hand on your desktop. Bend one leg and grab the ankle, pulling it up and toward your butt. Try to keep the knee from flying out too far to the side. Hold for several breaths, and change sides.
Hip Stretch: Sit at your desk chair with plenty of room in front of you. Cross one ankle over the other knee, so that your leg is making a “number 4″ shape. Place one hand on your ankle, and the other hand above your knee. Lean forward slightly until you feel a pull in your hip and butt. Hold for several breaths. Release and switch sides.
Lunge: The front of the hip and abdomen often tighten up from being clenched all day in a chair. This stretch helps to free up the muscle that runs through both. Stand in front of your desk with your chair on one side of you. Step forward in a lunge, holding onto the chair beside you. Try to keep your knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Pull your stomach in and up and tuck your hips up and in to increase the stretch. hold for several breaths and release.
Best Moves for Keeping Your Back Healthy: Spine Stretches
One of the first things to suffer after a long day at work is your back. To keep the healthy range of motion intact, Dluginski recommends a series of back stretches in your office chair.
Spine Twist: Sit in your office chair, with your legs bent comfortably in front of you. Twist your torso to the left, holding your chair arm and the back of the chair to gently pull your body to the back. Hold for several breaths, and switch sides.
Spine Flexion: Sit in your office chair, with your legs comfortably bent in front of you. Lean forward gently and place your head between your legs, letting gravity pull your spine out toward the ground. Hold for several breaths and release.
Spine Extension: Sit at the edge of your seat with room behind you to lean back. Place your hands behind your head and arch your back, pulling your elbows back and curving your chest forward. Hold for several breaths and release.
Side Stretch: While sitting, raise your arms over your head. Grab your right wrist with your left hand and bend your torso up and to the left until you feel a tug on your side. Repeat in the opposite direction.
“It’s another one that’s really great to bring down the stress response,” Dluginski said.
In addition to breathing and stretches, Dluginski said that office workers can do themselves a world of good by avoiding the urge to eat lunch at their desk.
According to Dluginski, when you eat at your desk while working, your body spends more energy coping with outside stress than it does on digestion, making your body store food as fat.
“Giving yourself even 20 minutes to get up, get something to eat, is exponentially more healthy,” she said.