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Is your chair your worst health enemy?

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in Workplace Communication

“Your chair is your enemy,” a recent New York Times article declared.

The point: Even if you exercise regularly, if you spend most of your time sitting, you’re still at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

That sounds like terrible news to anyone whose job requires sitting at a desk, working on a computer or spending long stretches in meetings. In other words, most of us.

But you do actually have a choice.

1. Change a series of small decisions you make every day. Do you take the stairs or the elevator? Do you e-mail someone down the hall, or get up and go see her? When you get home, do you work in the garden or sit in front of the television? Do you walk to the corner store, or drive?

2. Turn your desk into a gym, says John Hinkle, a personal trainer and owner of Move It Be Fit, who has led corporate fitness for companies such as Toyota.

“I call it stretching for desk jockeys,” Hinkle says. “These are stretches specifically for muscles that tighten up because of the way we sit. Muscles in front, like front shoulder muscles, tighten up, while muscles in the upper back become stretched in back.”

He recommends stretching three times a day: midmorning, during lunch and midafternoon:

Chest and shoulder stretch: Sit up tall, put your hands on your shoulders, then stretch your elbows back, as if you’re trying to touch them together.

“You should feel your back arching, your chest muscles opening, and even a stretch through your abdominal area,” he says.

Another variation: Stand in a doorway and flatten your forearms against the door frame, with upper arms parallel to the floor. Then take a half a stride forward.

Hamstring stretch: Stand beside your chair. Place a heel in the seat of your chair and, with leg straightened, lean forward toward your toes.

3. Trade your office chair for a therapy ball. To stay balanced, you have to activate muscles, meaning you use more energy.

4. Inject activity into your daily breaks. “Whether you’re walking in the stairwell or on a flat path, you could spend your 15-minute breaks walking around,” Hinkle says.

“Doing light activity gets the blood pumping and lets your mind completely rest, so you can get back to work with renewed focus.”

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