Office fitness is a new concept of physical fitness that recognizes the sedentary, repetitive nature of modern, computerized desk work.
New challenges like sitting disease and repetitive-strain injuries require new solutions.
How Office Fitness Differs from Conventional Fitness
Conventional fitness is based largely on an athletic view of your body. It's about building strength, becoming more aerobically fit, staying flexible, and getting as lean as possible. These are, of course, laudable goals, and we should all be working toward them.
But we're not all athletes. More to the point, the biggest problems we face in the office don't require an athletic solution.
To fight sitting disease, we just need to move more.
Likewise, to prevent repetitive-strain injuries (RSI's), we need to be more robust, but not necessarily NFL-linebacker robust. We can benefit from better posture, but we don't all have to carry ourselves like Olympic gymnasts. We need to understand ergonomics, but we don't need to become professional ergonomists.
Office fitness is about:
- incorporating enough routine movement during your work day to prevent sitting disease
- cultivating enough postural awareness to prevent back pain and RSI's
- understanding enough ergonomics self-assessment practice to keep yourself comfortable and productive at work
- doing enough exercise to address the unique challenges and hazards of computer-centric desk work
You Can't Just Exercise Your Way Out of Sitting Disease
You may have noticed that exercise came in last in that list. That's intentional.
I long ago lost count of the number of office workers I've met who, upon learning about sitting disease, proclaim, "I'm good. I ride my bike to work every day and work out four times a week."
Alas, sitting disease doesn't work that way.
The research (reams and reams of it now) consistently shows that you can't simply exercise your way out of sitting disease. You face the risks of your sedentary workstyle regardless of how much you exercise.
You could run a 10K every night after work and a marathon every weekend and still be at risk if you sat at a desk eight hours a day during the week.
Even if you're among the small percentage of people who are actually meeting government and fitness-industry workout recommendations, even if you are as fit as a fiddle, even if you look like a Greek god or goddess, you are still at the same risk for disease as your less-fit colleagues. In the language of science, sedentary office behavior is an "independent risk factor," one you face every time you sit down at your desk, regardless of your outside-the-office fitness level.
Office Fitness Is Your Best Hope for Preventing Sitting Disease
Since the harm that sitting inflicts on you accrues regardless of what you're doing the rest of the time, it behooves you to figure out how to sit less and to move more during the day.
Assuming that you're stuck with your commute, that you'll still sit down to take meals, and that you'll still relax on the couch with some TV or computer time after work, that leaves your workday as your best opportunity to become more routinely active.
It's unlikely that a majority of us will start working at standing desks or treadmill workstations right away, but you can still take steps right away to improve your office fitness.
- to get more routine movement into your workday right away, stand up whenever you answer the phone, walk to a colleague's office instead of calling, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and otherwise add as much movement as possible back into your workday
- to start to develop your postural awareness, sign up for a yoga or tai chi class, or find a good Gokhale Method or Alexander Technique practitioner
- to begin your ergonomics self-assessment training, read some of these ergonomics blog posts
- to add some office-specific exercises to your existing workouts, scan these office-fitness exercises
I literally wrote the book on office fitness (well, at least the first one). Scared Sitless: The Office Fitness Book first set out these principles in detail. It's probably not the be-all and end-all of office fitness resources, but it has already helped a lot of folks become healthier and happier at work.