zenhabits : breathe

The 9-5 Guide to Staying Active

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Matt Madeiro of Make Every Day Count.

Let’s see if this rings any bells.

When the clock hits 8, I sit. I plop back in my rolling chair, crack open the laptop on my desk, and spend the next nine hours with my butt glued firmly to seat. I stand on occasion to step into the bathroom, but I’m back to my post again shortly thereafter — hunched over, bleary-eyed, and nursing my coffee like it’s the greatest thing since toilet paper (I make no claims to the contrary).

When that clock hits 5, I bolt. I’m out the door in the blink of an eye, gunning my way through traffic to finally make it home. There, at long last, I do what I’ve been dreaming about doing all day: sit. I sink into the couch, smile, and seize the remote, content to shut the brain down for a few glorious hours before calling it a night.

Rinse. Repeat. See the common theme here?

We’ve grown used to idleness. The modern life too often asks us to sit, type, and keep off our feet, inviting the kind of sedentary lifestyle our waist lines are so better off without. As someone steadily entrenched in my chair over these last few months in the office, I’ve had to get creative. I’ve had to try and puzzle out how I can devote my daily 9 to 5, in other words, to the betterment—not the detriment—of my health. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

1. Move.

Any motion is better than no motion at all. That’s the core idea behind each of these tricks, and that’s the biggest bullet point worth incorporating into your daily routine.

Your job might demand you spend a lot of time in a chair. You can’t always change that, but there’s nothing stopping you from doing your best to work within those (admittedly comfy) constraints.

2. Set a timer.

Most modern phones come with a built-in timer, but you can always just keep an eye on the clock if you’re not keen on the sound of an alarm. The idea, in either case, is the same: to remind yourself at regular intervals to get up out of your seat and take a quick stroll around the office. I’m the kind of worker who gets quickly absorbed in my work, eyes locked on the screen as the hours sneak by, meaning an alarm set for every 45 minutes is often the only way I remember to stand up, stretch, and do one of the tricks below.

3. Incorporate bodyweight exercises.

It’s tempting to save all your sweat for the gym, but that’s not always practical — especially when life likes to take our rigorous training schedules, punt them into a trash can, and send us scrambling on back to the drawing board.

Saving your exercise solely for the gym, too, misses a simple point: several small sets of bodyweight exercises—knee or wall pushups and air squats as an example—throughout the day can be just as beneficial as thirty dedicated minutes on the treadmill, especially if those sets are timed to interrupt hours otherwise spent barely moving at all.

If you’re aiming to add a little more motion to your routine, in other words, don’t forget that you have a weight room already available. Have arms? Experiment with the Hundred Pushups program, a personal favorite of mine, and don’t be afraid to enjoy some wall pushups in the privacy of your own office. Have legs? Air squats, so long as you go slow and ease them into your routine, work the body like few other movements, and you don’t need more than five minutes to get the blood flowing before you’re forced to move back to your seat.

If you’re keen on setting a timer, too, this is the perfect opportunity to have a mini-workout. When that clock strikes 0, crank out 10 to 15 pushups, lunges, etc., and see how many you can collect over the course of the day. As the weeks progress, so will your totals, and so too will your overall fitness.

4. Capitalize on the size of your bladder.

This might be the first time in your life where a small bladder comes in handy. The next time you hoof it over to the toilet, why not spend an extra few minutes inside the stall? You can easily do twenty to thirty air squats in the privacy of that little box, and there’s nothing stopping you from doing five to ten wall pushups while you’re there. (Nothing, that is, aside from hygiene concerns). Put a thin sheet of toilet paper between each hand and the wall, however, and embrace the additional chance to work in a little exercise without having to wash your hands for the next hour.

And when you walk to the bathroom in the first place? Opt for the one the farthest away from your workstation, even one that forces you to take the stairs to a different floor. The additional minutes spent walking might not seem like much, but they always add up over the course of the day.

5. Keep walking.

You’ve heard the usual tricks: take the stairs where possible, park out as far as possible, and so forth. That’s solid advice, to be sure, but there’s no reason to stop there. Why not go further? Why not keep walking as much as possible?

When your timer goes off, pace around your office for five minutes. At the end of your lunch break, don’t sneak back to spend some time on Facebook — take a walk around your office instead, or head outside to soak up the sun while you circle the block.

When you take a phone call, don’t lean back in your chair to accept it. Pop up and move around for the duration of the call instead. In the case of long calls, this can easily—and effortlessly—add minutes of walking into your daily routine, minutes you otherwise might spend with your jaw flapping and both legs stuck motionless to the floor.

6. Take a stand.

This is revolutionary thinking, so brace yourself: standing is not sitting. It’s so far-removed in how it tasks the body, in fact, that you could call it a kind of exercise in itself (especially when stacked up next to relatively motionless hours spent in a chair). Standing desks, unfortunately, haven’t hit the mainstream, but they’re still a great start if you’re looking to tackle the core problem of the modern office: big, comfy seats, and jobs that demand we spend hours getting intimate with them.

If you’re stuck with a regular desk, however, you can still see the benefits of taking a stand. It might seem like an obvious trick, but try this: when given the choice of sitting or standing, choose standing first. When you’re visiting someone’s office, stand for a decent-sized chunk of the conversation. When you’re enjoying your lunch break, don’t be afraid to stand while you eat or prepare your meal. If you find yourself closing the door to your office for a good think, why not do it up on your feet?

When you get home from work, too, don’t immediately drop down on the couch. Stand in the kitchen while you cook, stay upright while you talk with family, and just try and delay that familiar combo of TV and couch for as long as your legs allow. A sudden increase in your standing time won’t come too easily at first, but stick with it and you’ll see your endurance rise within the span of a week.

The Biggest Step

If you’ll allow a repetition: any motion is better than no motion at all. Given how many hours we spend sunk deep into our chairs, any new emphasis on steady, simple activities can go a long way to helping you keep active. The tips above might not replace dedicated exercise, to be fair, but I think they can do one better: supplement your existing routine, or even put you on the path towards implementing one in the first place.

Remember, lastly, that exercise doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t demand three hours in the gym or long, sleepless nights on the treadmill, but it does ask you, now, to take an interest in your well-being, and to take small, steady steps toward improving your health.

Start today. Set a timer, stand when you can, and take a walk at every chance you get, and I think you’ll realize something exciting: your 9 to 5 doesn’t force you to sit still. Make the decision to start moving, in fact, and you might even find that your time at the office can have a positive impact on your health.

Matt Madeiro is the author of Make Every Day Count, a blog devoted to answering a single question: what does it mean to live well? He explores simple ways to do just that in his latest book, Happiness Is. Follow him on Twitter.



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