Being back in the office doesn’t have to put a strain on your health

Summer’s over and with vacation plans completed, many are back into their regular work routines.  For those returning to sedentary jobs, being back in the office many times means less physical activity and more sitting throughout the day.

But just because you have a desk doesn’t mean you need to be at it all day.  In fact, sitting in one position too long might not be good no matter how ergonomically friendly your chair is. Muscles can grow tense and tight.

So a lack of activity, particularly in combination with work-related stress, might not be in the best interest of your health.  According to physician members of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, it’s not a bad idea to build health and fitness into your daily office routine.

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

Dr. Schmeltz suggests building a fitness routine into your daily life is important.  For some joining a gym or enjoying a hobby such as jogging or golf is the answer.  But, he adds, finding ways to add fitness into your desk job can also help out.

“For those who are able, find a parking spot at your office that requires you to walk far, and try taking the steps instead of the elevator,” he says. “Then when you’re in the office, occasionally do some office rounding to get extra steps and take time at your desk to stretch.”

Marilyn J. Heine, MD, 2012 president of PAMED and a hematologist-oncologist and emergency medicine specialist from suburban Philadelphia, agrees with Dr. Schmeltz.  She adds that office workers should be aware of diet and nutrition.

“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 says.  “Vending machines are often filled with candy and chips while oversized lunch portions are the norm in many restaurants.”

Dr. Heine recommends carrying a water bottle to the office rather than hitting the soda machine.  Healthy snacks such as fruit and vegetables also make a smart choice and will be better for you than having candy around.

She also praises the 5-2-1-Almost None Formula developed by Nemours, a health system for children, and says it’s good advice for adults too.  Essentially, this formula recommends eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day; limiting screen time to no more than two hours a day; getting at least one 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 8 glasses of water a day,” Dr. Heine says.  “This is a pretty good base formula for all of us to follow.”

For your better health, the physician members of the Pennsylvania Medical Society offer the following ideas for those with desk jobs on how to incorporate fitness and health into the office setting.

  1. Walk as much as possible through the work day. Park far from the office entrance. Take the steps instead of the elevator. Make rounds in the office. Take a walk during lunch.
  2. Take a few moments to perform stretches you can do in the office.  Through your work day try doing some stretches for your shoulders, back, arms, hips, and legs.  (see list of ideas below)
  3. Body weight exercises can also be easily performed in the office (see list of ideas below)
  4. Pack your lunch with healthy options. If you must go out to lunch, don’t overdo it. Consider a salad. If you’re served an oversized lunch portion, don’t be afraid to ask for a doggie bag so that you can enjoy it for another meal.
  5. Replace candy and chips with fruits and vegetables as a snack.
  6. Replace your desk chair with an exercise ball.
  7. 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.

When at your desk, a few ideas for simple stretching and exercise might include:

Stretches

  • Shoulder shrugs
  • Neck roll
  • Side bends
  • Upper body twist
  • Torso stretch
  • Hip rotation
  • Toe touch

Exercises

  • Toe raisers
  • Seated leg extensions
  • Wall push-ups
  • Doorframe push
  • Book curls and overhead press
  • Stair climb

Online Resources
Diabetes