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The word exercise comes from the Latin exercere, meaning to keep busy or at work.
But what the typical adult does at work is sit in a desk chair for eight hours, plus a sitting-down commute both ways and an evening spent in front of the TV. This is a recipe for ruin. Sitting all day increases our risk for obesity and puts us at risk for back pain, poor posture, leg cramps, tense muscles and sheer boredom.
Here's something you can do about it.
Exercise is simply the act of keeping your body busy, using your muscles and bones while your heart keeps pumping. You may feel you have no time to do any such thing amid all the rapid-fire e-mails and six-person conference calls (and reading Web articles like this one). You're not alone. With unemployment up at 9.0 percent, more of us are buckling down instead of getting out of the office. According to a 2009 survey by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health, nearly 50 percent of adults in the U.S. admit that they don't engage in the suggested 30 minutes, five days a week of moderate physical activity or the suggested 20 minutes, three times a week of vigorous activity. In short, about half of Americans don't get the physical exercise they need.
But there are exercises you can do right at your desk to keep your body moving. They won't make you the next Michael Phelps (if there ever is one), but they'll help you improve your body's flexibility and strength with nothing but a few minutes and your desk chair. Just remember to check with a doctor before starting any exercise regimen.
Even when you're not exercising, you should make sure you sit at your desk the right way, says Jason Queiros, a chiropractor at Stamford Sports & Spine, in Connecticut.
"It's important that your desk chair be at the proper height to reduce strain on your neck and back," he says. "The chair provides the support for your body throughout the day. Adjust the height so you're in a 90-90-90 position — feet flat on the floor or on a foot rest and your knees and hips bent at 90-degree angles. Keep your lower spine flat against the back of the chair to maintain proper curvature. The chair will help keep the rest of your back and neck erect in order to decrease your chance of hunching forward, which can cause spasms in the back and neck and lead to headaches."
Queiros also has advice about your computer screen. "The top one-third of the monitor should be above eye level, both to decrease eyestrain and to prevent hunching forward," he says. "Make sure you're not craning your neck forward."
He adds, "Stretching is important and easy and can help diminish back pain. Try the neck stretch: Touch your ear to your shoulder and hold it there. For a chest opener, stretch your arms back as if you were trying to grab a pencil between your shoulder blades. Stand in a doorway, hold the door frame on each side and walk forward until you feel a stretch in your chest. Last, try supported back extensions. Hold your hips and gently extend your back by bending backward."
Folks who rarely disengage from the keyboard often develop carpal tunnel syndrome. But this affliction shouldn't catch up to you if you repeat this simple move every day. Stand at your desk, and, arms straight, place your palms on the desk with your fingers pointed toward you. Lower your body slowly until you feel the stretch (you won't have to go far). Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat as needed through the day.
The "Magic Carpet Ride" works your core and arms. Sit in your chair with your legs crossed and your feet on the seat. Then place your hands on the armrests, suck in your gut and raise yourself a few inches above the seat, using your belly, muscles and hands. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat five times.
For lower-body strength, try the "Wooden Leg." Sit in your chair. Extend one leg out straight in front of you. Hold for two seconds. Then raise it up as high as you can, and hold it again for two seconds. Repeat with each leg 15 times.
If this is too much to remember, take the stairs (two at a time!), not the elevator. Get up from your desk and go talk to your coworkers instead of e-mailing them. Park in the farthest part of the lot, or walk or bike to work. Sip water all day. A homemade lunch with lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains will help you steer clear of the vending machine while keeping your wallet fat and your waistline trim. Above all, just don't be lazy.