Staying fit: 7 health tips for taxing jobs

Does your job or profession require that you sit for several hours a day – either in front of a computer or behind the wheel of a car? Or perhaps you are a receptionist, restaurant host or concierge, where your job requires that you stay in one place –while either sitting or standing –for a majority of your work shift.

You’re not alone.

The workforce has changed drastically over the last five decades. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), physically active jobs – once accounting for half of the workforce –have plummeted to as low as 20% while sedentary jobs, or those requiring only light activity, have increased by more than 80%. This decrease in daily physical activity can translate into a decline in the average number of calories we burn in a day.

Staying fit contributes to your health and well-being as well as your effectiveness at the office. So, what are you waiting for? Time to get moving!

Here are seven tips to incorporate healthy habits into your work day:

1. Take frequent stretch breaks: Get up every hour to stretch your hamstrings, calves, shoulders, neck, and back. Hold the stretches for 30-60 seconds.

To stretch the hamstrings, stand up tall, and then fold forward, reaching towards the toes. Let your head and neck relax. For a good chest and shoulder stretch, place your palms on either side of a doorway; the elbows should be at a 90-degree angle so that they are even with your shoulders. Keeping your feet in the middle of the doorway, gently lean forward until a comfortable stretch is reached. To stretch the neck, lean the head to the right and left, then forward and back. To stretch your back, sit down and fold your chest and abdomen over your thighs, reaching behind your calves and gently hugging in. Let the neck completely relax.

2. Get up to fill your water bottle: Buy a good quality glass or stainless steel water bottle and fill up often! American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends drinking half of your body weight in ounces to stay properly hydrated.

3. Pack a gym bag the night before your workday: Oftentimes, going home after work means staying at home, and staying sedentary. Understandably, you’re tired after a long day at work and you want to go right home and crash. But, wait! Pack a gym bag ahead of time and head right to the gym after work without stopping at home to ensure that you get your workout in.

4. Wear quality, comfortable footwear: Women who frequently wear high heels are often at higher risk for extreme calf- and Achilles tightness because these muscles and tendons are in a shortened position with high heels. Maintaining flexibility of calf and Achilles muscles is essential to their optimal function. Choose flats when you can, and when you wear heels, bring a second pair of shoes to wear while at your desk or driving. For men, it's also important to be fitted for shoes that fit properly and provide plenty of arch support

5. Practice good posture: Good posture doesn't mean sitting awkwardly with your chest out and your back at an uncomfortable angle. Slightly pull your shoulders back and press them down, with your core muscles engaged so as to take pressure off the lumbar spine. Your pelvis should be slightly pulled under so that the core and hip flexors can engage. If you work at a computer all day, it's very easy to have weak upper and mid-back muscles and shoulders that roll forward from tight chest muscles. Try to be conscious of the way you are positioned throughout the entire day. If possible, try sitting on a stability ball at a desk or request a standing desk – options that promote better posture.

6. "Exercise" at work: At least once an hour, set a timer and do a full minute each of core engagement and deep breathing. Flex your abdominals like you were getting ready for someone to punch your stomach instead of 'sucking it in.’ Check your shoulder blade retraction and squeeze your shoulder blades back as tightly as possible; squeeze your glutes and quadriceps simultaneously. Hold this for a minute – and don’t forget to breathe!

Practicing deep breathing daily can help lower the heart rate and blood pressure over time.. Start by sitting comfortably with your legs and arms uncrossed. Inhale slowly through your nose, filling your lower abdomen with air for a count of 5 seconds - or more if you are able. Exhale slowly through your mouth, taking at least 10 seconds. Imagine your lips are pursed as though they are blowing up a balloon and let air escape slowly.

Take time during your lunch break to walk through your office or to walk laps around your work building. The increased oxygen intake will give you more energy for the remainder of your workday and will wake up the muscles that have been in the same position for too long. 

7. Optimize your office eating: You know what they say: "failing to plan is planning to fail." Set yourself up for success with what you eat, because it's true: we really are what we eat. Packing and bringing a healthy lunch means that you’ll eat a healthy lunch. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are healthy snacks to have on hand – stashed in the fridge or – tucked into your desk drawer. I've found it helpful to cut up raw vegetables and place them in baggies ahead of time so that they're ready for me for the week. I enjoy carrots and green peppers - and hummus as a dip makes this feel like a more substantial snack.

Ali Strittmatter is a fitness specialist with the AtlantiCare LifeCenter Fitness, and an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified exercise physiologist