Most office workers sit too much. Waaaay too much. We sit in meetings. In front of the computer, and during the daily commute. And all this sitting, along with a lack of physical activity, has devastating effects on the body and the brain. Ready for the sitting list of doom? Too much time in the chair leads to a decline in health, an increase in stress, poor posture and related aches and pains, and an unfocused brain that has a hard time thinking critically and processing memory.
The good news is that it’s not too late to turn these effects around. By incorporating five simple exercises into your day, you’ll increase the resilience in your body, build muscle strength, and reduce aches and pains. You’ll also burn away stress, build brain cells, and increase neuron connections that make you more adaptable, self-disciplined, and focused.
These five exercises make you feel better, and most likely look better too. They don’t require any equipment, and you can do them throughout the day from a private office, a hotel room, or at home around the edges of your workday.
Ready to get started? I suggest you start with 10 reps of each of the exercises listed below and gradually increase at your own pace.
Exercise 1: Push-Ups
Main Benefit: Push Away Back and Neck Aches
Too much sitting leads to a weak core, which creates back aches, neck pain, chronic headaches, and poor posture. Performing the classic push-up activates core muscles that keep your body straight and ultimately reduces aches and pains. Push-ups also increase your ability to, well, push, which is a required movement in daily life—from opening or closing doors to catching yourself in a fall. If not practical to do push-ups on the floor during the workday, try doing push-ups against a desk.
Exercise 2: Squats
Main Benefit: Pump Oxygen into Your Brain to Help You Stay Calm
During a stressful day (or week or month), the accumulation of stress hormones makes you perceive that stressors are larger than they really are. Performing squats activates the large muscles in your legs and quickly stimulates blood flow and oxygen in your body and brain. This helps to remove stress hormones and allows the brain to remain calmer, even in challenging situations. On the practical side, doing squat exercises will make it easier to do movements like getting in and out of chairs and picking up a heavy suitcase.
Exercise 3: Retractions
Main Benefit: Straighten Rounded Shoulders and Pull Life Back into Your Spine
Sitting in front of a computer for hours can result in rounded shoulders and a hunched back. No surprise, but these create back and neck pain, decrease oxygen flow to the brain, and ultimately decrease performance. Performing pulling exercises like retractions activates the muscles in your back that are essential for good posture.
They’re not hard to do: Simply stand or sit with an erect spine and your arms outstretched, and imagine holding onto a rope and pulling it toward you without bending your elbows. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, making sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and down. Squeeze every fiber of your back from the base of your neck to your buttocks.
Exercise 4: Lunges
Main Benefit: Melt "Frozen" Connective Tissue and Regain Mobility
Here’s a disturbing thought: When you’re sedentary, the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments becomes thickened over time, making it more difficult to move freely. This increases the risk of chronic back and neck pain, headaches, and muscle tension. But the tissue is adaptive to our movement. When we exercise, we actually melt the connective tissue back down to its thin and pliable form. Performing lunges increases our ability to move more dynamically. Lunges also work the muscles that enable us to walk and climb stairs effortlessly.
“When you’re sedentary, the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments becomes thickened over time, making it more difficult to move freely.”
Exercise 5: Overhead Lift
Main Benefit: Improve Shoulder Mobility and Lift Posture
Too much sitting can lead to a slouching posture with a curved upper spine. Performing exercises that raise your arms overhead results in an upper spine that can maintain its natural erect position, and increases your ability to lift and raise objects.
To perform a basic lifting exercise, stand with your back to a wall and raise your elbows to shoulder height, with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and your palms facing down. Squeeze your elbows into the wall, then raise the backs of your hands to the wall and squeeze them in that position without dropping your elbows.
Marcel Daane is the author of "Headstrong Performance: Improve Your Mental Performance with Nutrition, Exercise, and Neuroscience." He is considered a pioneer in integrating health and neuroscience to improve performance in executives. As the CEO of Headstrong Performance, a Singapore-based, globally operating boutique consulting firm, Daane helps organizations, leadership teams, and executives transcend their current performance plateaus, manage stress, improve focus, ignite creativity, and drive change. The son of a celebrated political activist, Daane is a former member of an elite naval intelligence unit with advanced degrees in neuroscience of leadership and complementary medicine. He has over 20 years of coaching experience across business, sports, health, and cognitive performance. When not coaching, writing, or speaking, Daane likes to spend time traveling with his wife, Ursula, and daughter, Kilani. To learn more, visit www.marceldaane.com and www.headstrongperformance.net, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.