So, you've got a job. Unfortunately, the whole employment thing probably means you're sitting all day, causing your legs to cramp and your back to ache. Desk jobs make the transition from office chair to wheelchair an easy one by increasing your risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. But you can take control of your health with simple physical and mental exercises to help you become more active and increase your productivity.
Let's Get Physical
Standing while working is a great way to help your body through the nine-to-five. Height-adjustable standing desks like those offered by Varidesk encourage you to maintain a healthy activity level during the workday by making it easy to alternate between sitting and standing. But if you haven't written standing desks into the budget yet, there are tons of exercises and hacks that will improve your health at work without forcing you out of your seat. You don't have to exert much effort to prevent the dreaded repetitive stress injury. Try rotating your neck from side to side and front to back to keep those muscles from tightening. To avoid carpal tunnel, set a reminder to roll your wrists clockwise and counterclockwise on the hour. Doing the same thing with your ankles and your shoulders promotes good circulation and prevents muscle tension.
If you want to step it up a notch, work out your ab muscles by squeezing and releasing them. Do the same with your butt cheeks for a quick (and inconspicuous, promise!) glute workout. Foot raises are another easy way to stay active at your desk without interrupting your workflow. Just sit at an angle and alternate lifting each foot off the ground for as long as you'd like. You can get your whole leg in on the action extending it in front of you until it's in line with your hip, then holding it there for as long as possible. Work in a competitive office? Inject a little fun into the workday by challenging your coworkers to a leg raise contest. Whoever holds it for the shortest amount of time buys the first round at happy hour.
It's Time to Get Up
One of the most crucial habits of staying healthy at work is remembering to stand and walk around at regular intervals. There are many excuses (otherwise known as "productive procrastination") you can use to amble about the office. One of the easiest is to drink water steadily throughout the day. Not only will you be hydrated, you'll be forced to periodically get up for a bathroom break. If you have a meeting or brainstorm scheduled, suggest that everyone walk to a coffee shop or at least head to a conference room. This is a win-win since getting up and walking around has been proven to boost creativity.
Mixing up your daily routine is another way to improve your physical and mental health. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is an obvious but effective exercise hack. Instead of emailing or chatting a coworker, get up and go talk to them. It will force you to increase your movement, and most likely improve your communication as well. If your office is within walking distance, set your alarm a little earlier to leave enough time for a morning and evening stroll (added bonus: avoiding hellish rush hour). If you must drive to work, choose a parking spot far away from your office door and give yourself a few more minutes free from work-related thoughts.
One of the easiest ways to increase your mobility at work is switching to a standing desk. Varidesk's aesthetically pleasing adjustable-height sit-stand desks rest on top of your existing desk, allowing you to transition easily between sitting and standing positions throughout the day.
Get in Your Head
Exercise has the amazing side effect of enhancing your mood (that whole endorphins thing) thus increasing your productivity and satisfaction at work. But if you're not up and moving around, or if you've tired yourself out from doing competitive glute exercises at your desk, try some simple mind and body tricks to boost your concentration. Believe it or not, putting your thumb in your mouth and blowing can actually reduce stress. It calms your nerves by activating your vagus nerve. You can also chew a coffee stirrer or gum to increase your focus while in the midst of an intense project (or game of Minesweeper — no judgments).
Meditation is another great way to boost productivity: a study by the University of Washington found that it increases concentration and memory. Don't think you have time to fit it into your schedule? Try a two-minute practice. Beginners can use apps like Buddhify to find guided meditations that inspire mindfulness, clear thinking, and stress reduction. Just leave your self-consciousness at your desk and go to the bathroom with some headphones.
If you're serious about getting healthier at work, Varidesk offers an array of surprisingly affordable options to get out of your chair during the day. They come fully assembled so set up is a breeze, and they sit on top of your existing desk or cubicle. Head here to learn more.
Nandita Raghuram is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn.