Headlines about the dangers of soda used to run rampant in the press. These days, it seems public enemy number one is the all too unavoidable act of sitting. When you sit for long periods of time, your muscles adapt and start to work differently—and not in a good way. Being sedentary for many hours a day (as is required in most office jobs) has been linked to a number of long-term health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. In the short-term, inactivity causes weight gain and loss of muscle tone. You may not have convinced your HR department to replace all the desks in your office with treadmill desks (yet), and you probably haven’t found a way to shave hours off of your workday (if you do, let us know), but you can get in shape over your lunch break.
Keep reading to find out how!
Your first shape-up option is the most desirable: Get out of the office and get your heart rate up. To make it happen, set a calendar reminder on your computer, and keep that appointment as you would any other meeting—even if that just means walking to get your lunch (every power walk counts!). Stash a pair of sneakers in your desk—you’re more likely to get moving when you can’t use your heels as an excuse.
Getting in an hour-long sweat session at the gym is probably not a viable option, but don’t let that keep you from working out. Research shows that the effects of exercise are cumulative, so there’s nothing wrong with breaking up your workout into 15-minute blocks. During your lunch hour, go for a run around the neighborhood, or spend 15 minutes with the original StairMaster, the stairs. To make your about-the-office workouts as effective as any in-the-gym workout, try interval training. On your run, sprint for a block, and then walk for a block. If you’re on the stairs, run up a flight, and then walk down a flight.
If your conference call is running over into your lunch hour, make the most of it—you can do more when you’re on the phone than when you’re glued to a computer. In fact, being on the phone is the perfect opportunity to stand (a rare luxury in office life). Pace around the conference room for a bit of cardio. Or try some toning exercises, like calf raises. Do a few sets with your toes turned out, turned in, and parallel (or one-legged, if you really want to go for it).
To tone your glutes and hamstrings, break out your arabesques and squats. Complete a set of standing leg lifts on one side, then switch legs. Add a set of squats, and then mix in some more ballet with a few grand pliés in second position (that’s feet wider than hip distance apart with your toes turned out) for a total lower body workout.
If the above-mentioned exercises would startle your fellow in-room attendees, focus on your arms with table pushes. First, place your hands under the table, and try to lift it. Hold that position until your muscles start to fatigue. Then, place your hands on top of the table and push down on the surface. Hold that for as long as you can, shake it out, and repeat. Your biceps and triceps will definitely feel the burn.
Even when you simply can’t get away from your desk, you’ve still got options. Engage your core and get your heart rate up with rapid knee raises. Sit on the edge of your chair, feet flat on the floor, hips squared off, and alternate lifting your knees as high as you can and fast as you can. Next up, double-leg lifts. Sit on the edge of your chair, legs extended in front of you. Cross one leg over the other, squeeze them together, lift, hold at the top for a few seconds, slowly lower, and then switch legs. Then try single-leg extensions. Lift one leg up, drive it across your body, then out to the opposite side, then back to center, lower, and repeat with the other leg. Or focus on your derriere with glute squeezes. Lift one glute up as much as you can, then lower, and switch sides. Continue with the side-to-side rocking motion for 30 seconds, and then squeeze them together for 20 seconds.
And it’s not all about the legs—you can exercise your abdominal muscles at your desk too. To strengthen your core, ditch your desk chair, and sit on an exercise ball. You’ll be getting an ab workout (and improving your posture), even if it’s just for one hour.
Lunch-hour workout or not, the office doesn’t have to be a source of weight gain and loss of muscle tone. Simply sitting up straight burns calories. Yes, as the afternoon wears on it becomes harder not to slump down in your chair, but maintaining good posture works your abs and burns 20 percent more calories than slouching. Standing and walking will burn even more. Instead of emailing your co-worker that quick question, get up and ask them in person. Use a smaller water bottle, one that forces you to get up and refill more often. And take the long way to the water cooler—all of those steps will add up.
Better yet, turn your full water bottle into a dumbbell. Bicep curls, tricep extensions, and shoulder presses can all be done anytime and anywhere with the supplies you already have at your desk.
How often do you get a lunch-hour workout in? Tell us what you do in the comments!