As a writer, I’m pretty much glued to my computer most of the time, so when my vacation week finally arrived, I couldn’t have been happier. Leaving behind frantic deadlines and being able to ignore all Kardashian “breaking” news to spend lazy days with my kids sounded like heaven. And it was. Until I put on my swimsuit. That’s when I realized the scary truth. I have Office Bod—hunched-over posture, a flat behind, a paunchy midsection, and thigh spread. That’s what happens when you spend hours at your desk. It’s not ideal.
Ten years ago even, leaving the office for lunch or stepping out for an errand, were pretty normal. Now that whole work culture has changed, it’s affecting our health and our bodies. The lunch hour has become a relic (we all eat at our desks). Going on an errand in the middle of the workday is seen as an interruption (supposedly this is what online shopping is for). Plus, we are all addicted to our screens (if I go offline for long, I risk missing earth-shattering news like Gisele getting an eye-lift).
It’s not just a superficial thing; recent studies have proved that sedentary lifestyle increases the rates of type 2 diabetes (if you sit for between eight and 12 hours, your risk increases by 90 percent), cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
When the term Dad Bod emerged this spring, my 40-something friends and I laughed endlessly about it. After all, over the years we have watched (weeping) as once-studly guys transformed into paunchy, pasty middle-aged Dad Bods. Sure, we had Mom Bods after having babies, but the craziness of watching our bodies morph with pregnancy made so many of us that much more committed to fitness. Dad Bod, which was originally coined for 20-something guys who were forgoing gym time in favor of keg time, was supposedly appealing to certain girls. I don’t see the same thing happening for Office Bod.
I moved from being a freelancer to working in an office last year, and it’s been a huge change in a dozen ways, but the most obvious of which is my body. Walking the dog or literally jogging to a school pickup between articles was just part of my day. Now, though I walk around the block once a day, my fingers get the most exercise as they dance around my keyboard. Previously, when I needed to get in shape, I would run a little more, do some more weights, a few extra crunches and things fell back in line. Until now. So the question is, in a culture of sitting, how do you banish Office Bod for good? I turned to three experts for advice.
Set a timer to move: “The most important thing is to be sitting as little as possible throughout the day,” says trainer-to-the-stars Harley Pasternak. Whether you make a plan to move every 30, 45, or 60 minutes, do it consistently. “Even if it is just five minutes of walking, it will make a difference,” says Pasternak. Setting an alarm on your phone, or committing to move with a co-worker and a consistent time, can help you keep it up. Adds Pasternak: “Legally your job has to give you a lunch break, plus two 15-minute breaks.” He suggests using those breaks to walk rather than hanging out by the water cooler.
Get a standing desk: Working in a standing position offers multiple benefits including better overall alignment and increased calorie burning. “People often slouch or create improper movement pattern when they are sitting. Your hip flexors are also tightening up, and you are putting more strain on your back,” explains Anita Golden, fitness manager at Crunch. Also, because standing is less comfortable than sitting, Golden believes you are less likely to stay in one position for hours.
Take calls on the go: “Why not take advantage of cellphone technology? It’s a technology that lets us work from anywhere” says Pasternak. “When you have to be on a work call, if you can, do it while walking around the block.”
Focus on strength training: “If you are sitting for long periods of time, you need to be smarter with your workouts, explains Golden. “You are automatically more susceptible to injury because you are less active, so tailor your workouts to your body with a trainer.” Golden believes that the key to fighting Office Bod is strength training: “It will help your body burn calories more efficiently than if you were just doing cardio.” Her ideal balance is 20 percent cardio and 80 percent strength training (which includes lifting weights and doing resistance training). In terms of how often you should work out, Golden believes 45 minutes three times a week is the minimum you should be doing outside the office to stay fit.
Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak demonstrating the Superman, which targets butt, hamstrings, and lower back. (Photo: Beth Bischoff)
Counter Office Bod with these moves: It turns out that specific fitness moves are needed to tackle Office Bod. My go-tos of running and crunches are, according to Pasternak, the opposite of what I should be doing. “When you are sitting, you are shortening your midsection, and crunches you will shorten your midsection even more.” Instead, do moves that strengthen the lower back like Superman, or do reverse incline dumbbell lifts to strengthen the upper back. “These will lengthen and reverse the natural hunching that occurs and pull your shoulder blades back,” says Pasternak. Sitting also makes your hamstrings shorten, so he suggests countering with the dumbbell stiff-legged dead lift. Hip thrusts are also key: “You are so busy being folded all day, but hip thrusts will open your hips along with strengthening your glutes while lengthening your midsection and backside.”
Don’t try to work out at your desk: While this seems like it could be some sort of multitasking solution, according to Pasternak, it’s a fast track to getting injured. “Doing random squats won’t make you healthier or leaner. Instead you will end up with tendonitis,” says Pasternak. Apparently not warming up and randomly doing exercises here and there won’t succeed. “You create inflammation and damaged tissues, and the muscles won’t change in a positive way.”
Commit to moving with your co-workers: Group fitness goals are often more motivating than individual ones. When you are tired, or inclined to skip working out, having someone waiting for you is key. Pasternak has clients who put together office exercise groups. Some commit to parking their cars a mile from the office each morning and they all walk in together. Others go for short walks or runs at lunchtime or at regular intervals throughout the day.
Invest in a fitness tracker: Pasternak has all his clients invest in a fitness band. “You’ll see how much, or how little, you are moving,” he says. Pasternak recommends 10,000 steps a day (roughly five miles) just to maintain health. To lose weight, go with 12,000. To be really fit, keep counting. Knowing your steps can help motivate you to move more.
Exercise in the morning: If you schedule your workouts in the evening, you are bound to cancel, thanks to extra work, plans with friends, or simple exhaustion. Instead, Pasternak suggests making sure to move every morning. “It can be as short as 10 minutes,” says Pasternak, who recommends doing at least one resistance exercise each day. Five to 10 minutes a day, targeting a different body part each day, will ultimately lead to a full-body workout at the end of the week.
Say no to unhealthy snacks: Nutritionist Kimberly Snyder advises that you change your approach to food at the office, something she says will definitely be a challenge. “The office is really tough; you are sitting all day, and there is always unhealthy food around,” Snyder explains. “The first two weeks of establishing a new habit is the hardest. But if you get through that, then you will stick with it. You will have to say no to whatever your obvious temptations are, like bagels or candy or chips, and be really strict with yourself for two weeks knowing it will be a lot easier when you are through that time.”
Bring your own snacks: Snyder recommends bringing healthy options from home, especially if your office is stocked with things like chips, soda, and candy. “A bite of dark chocolate will quell a sweet craving when there are cupcakes or sweets around,” Snyder explains. She has also sent clients to work with chia pudding made with almond milk, chia seeds, and stevia. “It’s so good for your skin with all the protein and minerals,” Snyder says. She also suggests bringing carrot, celery sticks, or cut up peppers. The key she says is having an appetizing dip to go along with it. Think salsa, salad dressing, hummus, or guacamole. For drinks, she advises steering clear of diet soda which is bad for your skin. She steers clients toward plain water, hot water with lemon (“great for your skin”), green tea (“a healthy alternative to coffee”), or kombucha.