Easy exercises and stretches you can do at work

If you're reading this article, you're likely sitting down. Try these exercises that can be done right at your desk. MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

From sitting in our cars, to sitting at our desks, to sitting on the couch, a typical day for the average Canadian doesn’t include a whole lot of time on our feet.

“For a variety of reasons that include technology, culture and attitudes, we have a severe generational case of sitting disease,” said Dr. Mike Evans a St. Michael’s Hospital physician and University of Toronto scientist. “We watch phones, tablets, televisions. We stare at computers when we work and pride ourselves on not moving for four hours straight.”

Our sedentary lifestyles can lead to a myriad of health problems. Sitting for long stretches of time has been linked to increased obesity, high blood pressure and a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.

READ MORE: Doctor calls on Canadians to ditch the shortcuts, add time on their feet

Taking 10,000 steps a day is widely considered the benchmark adults should strive for to be considered ‘active.’ But recent estimates from the Heart and Stroke Foundation show that the average Canadian man takes around 9,500 steps a day and Canadian women take less than 8,500 steps per day (though most of the activity is considered ‘light activity’ like cooking, cleaning and slow walking). If you consider that the average adult’s stride length is around 2.5 feet long, walking 10,000 steps would be around the equivalent of walking five miles, or eight kilometres.

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We can’t necessarily escape the fact that we need to commute to work and we need to work 8-hour days at a desk. And jogging eight kilometres after work isn’t realistic for everyone. So why not try to fit in some exercise at work? After all, it’s where we spend a good chunk of our adult life.

With that in mind, we spoke to Dr. Lara Lauzon, an assistant professor in the school of exercise science, physical and health education at the University of Victoria, for tips on exercises and stretches you can do in the office.

Lauzon recommended these exercises that move from the head to the toe:

  • Neck stretch: gently tilt your head toward your shoulder and hold for five to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Do two repetitions.
  • Shoulder stretch: sit tall with your back flat and abdominal muscles tightened. Lift your shoulders toward your head and release them back down toward the floor. Then roll your shoulders forward, then backward. Repeat the sequence moving in the opposite direction.
  • Wrist stretches: These are especially important for people who work on a computer during the day. Circle your wrists, first away from the body, then reverse toward the centre of the body. Then, flex and extend your wrists, so you are pressing your hands toward your inner arms, then stretching them back toward the outer arms.
  • Finger stretches: Gently press your fingers back toward the outside of your lower arm and hold for three to five seconds. Repeat on the other side.

“I usually do these stretches a number of times throughout the day,” said Lauzon, adding that these exercises can easily be done while walking to the copy room or kitchen, for instance.

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  • Lower back stretch: Get out of your chair and place your hands shoulder-width apart on your desk, keeping your hands at the edge of your desk. Slowly step back until your arms are almost straight. Then, slowly lean your chest toward the floor, with legs slightly bent, with your hips aligned with your legs so your legs and back are in a 90-degree position. Hold for three to five seconds.
  • Lower leg/calf stretch: Stand close to your desk and press one leg back behind you. Your back leg should be straight and foot pointed forward. Keep your front leg bent. Then, push the heel of the back leg into the floor. Hold for three to five seconds, then repeat with the other leg.
  • Hip release: Stand tall with knees slightly bent and circle your hips around. Reverse the direction. “I usually make sure my door is closed when I do this stretch,” said Lauzon.
  • Overall stretch: Stand tall with your back flat. Keep your ab muscles tight and reach your arms toward the ceiling. Take a big breath in and then breathe out while slowly lowering your arms to the floor. Repeat two or three times.

Lauzon said the new physical activity guidelines suggest adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Adults should also do strengthening exercises at least two days per week. Her advice: try and move more often. Standing is better than sitting, and walking is better than standing. Also try to stretch whenever you can and make movement a part of your daily life.

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Other tips for adding more movement to your work day:

  • Park your car at the far end of the parking lot
  • Stand, rather than sit, when on the phone
  • Talk a walk on your breaks
  • Drink lots of water (extra steps to kitchen and more trips to the bathroom)

Because not everyone feels comfortable exercising at work, Global News staff agreed to try out some workplace exercises and rank them in terms of the embarrassment level they felt.

Desk push-ups:

Leg extensions:

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Invisible chair sit (aka squats):

Tricep dips:

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