A decade ago, I worked in IT. At first I loved my job, travelled a lot, and had great managers, who taught me so much. By my third year in however, I had gained 2 stone, was suffering from low back pain, low energy, insomnia, and spending a huge chunk of my wages on various healing remedies, including phsyio, chiropractic, counselling, alcohol, cigarettes and anti-depressants. After working all day, and not eating properly, I would get home after 7pm, and veg out on the sofa in front of the TV with a takeaway and a bottle of wine. I resented the long hours that work demanded, and found I had little time at the weekend to get chores done and be ready again for Monday. My energy was zapped. I lived for holidays, rarely investing my weekday time in my health or in doing things I loved like developing talents and hobbies.
It goes without saying I was becoming less fun to be around!
Luckily, I had great support from my managers, who encouraged me to go for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and get back to myself. So, what did that mean? Mostly it meant a better diet and a lot more movement day to day. I took up aqua-aerobics in the evening, swimming and Pilates during my lunch-break, joined a gym, tried Gymnastics, and remembering how much I used to enjoy practicing yoga, joined a weekly class. Then, a friend showed me the GI Diet book. (Thanks Caitriona!) Being illiterate in home-economics, the whole idea of cooking from scratch and balancing calorie intake with expenditure was completely novel to me! At the grand old age of 25 I made my first quiche, curry, bread, pasta sauce….all the ready-meals I’d been living off now prepared in my own kitchen. The weight fell off.
Over ten years has gone by since I decided to daily invest in my health and fitness. The changes I’ve gone through are incredible. I said goodbye to anti-depressants and smoking, and so long to double rum and coke. (Thanks to two kids and sleep deprivation, these days one glass of wine is plenty!) I no longer crave highs because I no longer have the lows. Daily diet and exercise have a HUGE part to play in maintaining my weight and fitness levels. No matter what your day job, there is always a way to improve your wellbeing status from couch potato to 5k a day. And the healthier and fitter you become, the more life opens up for you. You just need to find your motivation. Better quality of life? Better sleep? Better looking?!…happy body, happy mind, happy heart.
Looking after my health gave me the confidence to try new sports like surfing, windsurfing, and fun fitness classes such as Adult Ballet, Zumba, Tango and Salsa dancing to name a few. Investing in my hobbies and love of learning has helped to keep me young at heart and improved my fitness. I’ve expressed my creativity in photography and art classes, painting, glass-blowing, stained glass, ceramics, and realised that I also love to cook. Celebrating my gifts and talents, while daily exercising my right to move, is the key to happiness and helping others. It’s hard to be depressed when preparing a vegan meal for your mates, learning some awesome yoga arm balances, or exhausted and elated after your first 20k!
Life isn’t perfect. Things happen outside of your control. And some nights bring less than 2 hours sleep. Regardless of life’s curveballs, you can always control the types of food and movement you opt for on a daily basis. The way you move and eat matters. Moving your body throughout the day is my top tip for improving your fitness at work.
“If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” It’s true we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a year. You are responsible for your energy, your behaviour, your thoughts, words and deeds. If you think it you can be it. Manage your energy everyday throughout the day. Is the food you are choosing to eat contributing to your overall energy and fitness levels or is it taking from them? Manage your time outside work to maximise your food options at work. Bake some healthy bars on a Sunday, get up earlier to make lunch, pack a salad and fruit. Meditating for 3 minutes before you eat, or eating mindfully for the first 3 minutes, will improve your mood, and over time, your food choices.
When standing or sitting, check your alignment. How we hold ourselves affects our energy levels. Stack your joints so that your feet are aligned with the outer edges straight, take your hips back so the weight is over your heels and the toes can lift. Take your shoulders back over your hips, and ears back over your shoulders. Slide the front bottom ribs down towards your hips. Feel your lower tummy drawing back towards your spine and lengthen up through the crown of your head. Once you realise you’re in charge of your energy and your time, it’s easier to make positive choices. Follow my tips below and you will see your fitness levels soar!
5 Top Tips for office workers to up their fitness:
1. “Move your body!”
Cycle or walk part, if not all, of your journey to work. Get off one Bus or Luas stop before your final destination. Walk a different route to work twice a week, to give your brain visual and mental stimulation. Walk on the textured surfaces that you find, not just on the smooth pavement. This will keep you more alert, and will give your eyes a break from staring at your iPhone or computer screen. If you need to drive, park further away from your office and walk the rest of the way. Keep your trainers to hand or go barefoot in summer. WALK everyday. No excuses!
2. “Walking is wonderful”
If you have lower body ability, find reasons to walk at work. Discuss project ideas with a colleague at work while taking a walk. Outside. A walking meeting is a great way to squeeze exercise into your busy workday. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Walk over to someone’s desk at work rather than calling them on the phone. Walk up escalators rather than standing still. Fill your water bottle from the cooler two floors below. We need to walk 3-5 miles per day to keep our joints healthy and our bones strong. Maximise your lunch-break with a 15-20 minute brisk walk. Wear a pedometer to track your mileage. If you have more creative walking ideas, I’d love to hear them!
A walking meeting, great way to squeeze exercise into your workday
3. “Stand, Stretch, Squat”
Stand while talking on the telephone. Perform head, neck and shoulder rolls: Chin to chest, chin to ceiling. Right ear to right shoulder, back to centre, left ear to left shoulder. Roll your arms and shoulders forward and back. Stretch your arms overhead, and side to side. Swap your chair for Chair Pose: http://youtu.be/zFWIGX0xYJU Put the “OUU” into Utkatasana as you sit back (bum out!) and down. There’s a reason why they call it “Powerful” Pose…raise your arms up if you love to Chair!
Try Katy Bowman’s #4 pose while sitting on the edge of your chair. Then try it freestanding. Start in Tadasana, Mountain pose. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Bend your left knee, hips back and down. Palms together in front of your heart. Think happy thoughts…
If squatting is not an option, begin with lower leg stretches. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, outer edges aligned in parallel, facing your chair, 1-2 feet in front of you. Place your hands on the seat and draw your hips back over your heels, so you’re making an L-shape over your chair. Lift your tailbone up to the ceiling. Lift up your toes or rest them on a rolled-up mat/suit/foam roller/cable cover and feel the stretch along your calves. See Katy Bowman’s brilliant blogpost ‘You Don’t Know Squat’ for excellent prep stretches, proper alignment and truly professional squatting technique 😉
Double Calf Stretch – prep for squat
Squat for 10 seconds, sit, twist your torso from side to side, then stand again. See if you can get the person on the phone to squat too. Build up to 1 minute squats. Set an alarm on your laptop to remind you to stand,stretch,squat every 45 minutes. Set up a squatting time challenge with your desk neighbours and reward the monthly winner. 20 hours squatting in 30 days deserves at least a free ticket to the cinema!
Katy Bowman’s Beginner’s Squat. Work towards heels on the floor and knees back over your heels.
4. “Align for Life”
To avoid RSI, stretch your wrists
Check your alignment. Again. How far forward of your neck did your head travel when reading that last email?! Stack your joints so that your feet are aligned with the outer edges straight, take your hips back so the weight is over your heels and the toes can lift. Then take your shoulders back over your hips, and ears back over your shoulders. Slide the front bottom ribs down towards your hips. Arms by your sides, draw your triceps towards your waist, and allow your shoulders to travel down away from your ears. When typing keep your lower arms and wrists straight, bending from your fingers rather than your wrists. See my blog posts on wrist stretches for some easy examples you can do at your desk.
When your body is properly aligned, your muscles will tone naturally. Lower leg stretches and squats are two of the best things you can do at work to improve your pelvic floor alignment and core strength, both of which are affected by prolonged sitting on your tailbone. Sit forward on your sit bones and keep a small curve in your lower back while drawing your lower tummy towards the back of your chair. Check out my posts yoga for pelvic floor health.
5. “Move more!”
Exercise before or after work, or during your lunch break. Your office may have a gym, or you may have access to a nearby swimming pool or tennis courts. Ask HR for the name of your Employee Health and Wellness programme officer. Nicole Crawford from Breaking Muscle.com has a good article on why keeping mobile is so important for desk workers:http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/working-out-isnt-enough-advice-for-desk-workers Show it to your HR H&W Programme Officer. Make them jump out of their seat with the scary info-graphic below. Then lobby for FREE lunch-time fitness classes. Like pilates. And yoga! Give HR my number to book a demo 😉
Regular movement classes that teach correct alignment, balance & weight-bearing exercises, will help you to maintain a healthy body, and up your fitness at work.
Bad chair. Good chair pose squat!
Image 2: Esther Ekhart ‘Utkatasana’ Chair Pose, www.ekhartyoga.com
Image 3: Katy Bowman #4 Stretch Piriformis Holiday www.katysays.com
Image 4: Katy Bowman Double Calf Stretch www.katysays.com
Image 5: Katy Bowman Beginner’s Squat www.katysays.com
Image 6: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Think stock
Image 7: http://lifehacker.com/5800720/the-sitting-is-killing-you-infographic-illustrates-the-stress-of-prolonged-sitting-importance-of-getting-up