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7 No-Sweat Ways to Sneak in Physical Activity at Work

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You know sitting all day is bad for you; just think about how stiff and tense you feel after a few hours hunched over a keyboard. And yes, we know you’re busy, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your wellbeing at work. Try these seven super-easy recommendations from UCLA physician Daniel Vigil to work a little more mood-boosting, tension-fighting movement into your day. 

1. REARRANGE YOUR WORKSPACE.

Moving your trash can, recycling bin, and other necessary items farther from your desk or getting rid of them altogether is a surefire way to get you on your feet.

2. SHOW UP IN PERSON.

Here’s a radical idea: Instead of emailing a coworker who sits three cubicles away, go talk to them. 

3. BORROW A BATHROOM.

Commit to using the restroom or water cooler in another part of your building. Who knows what you’ll discover? They might have better toilet paper. 

4. TAKE THE DANG STAIRS.

We probably don’t have to tell you this, but we’re going to anyway: If you can skip the elevator, do it.  

5. PAUSE THAT MEETING.

The next time you’re stuck in an endless meeting, excuse yourself for a mini-break. Get yourself some water, use the restroom (upstairs, if possible!) and do a little stretching out in the hall. If you’re leading the meeting, you can stop the drudgery altogether and encourage everyone to stop talking for 30 seconds and shake it off. 

6. ADD A FEW STEPS TO YOUR COMMUTE.

Park your car just a little farther away than usual, or get off the subway a stop or two early. Think of this time not only as exercise but as a chance to enjoy some bonus fresh air before and after an 8-hour stint in a concrete box. 

7. ADD AN APP.

There’s an app for everything these days. If your problem is forgetting to stand up, download a break reminder. If you’d like to be moving more, try a step counter. If guilt is the issue, consider this: Studies have shown that taking breaks (from 5-minute breathers to full-on vacations) increases productivity. By leaving your desk, you’re doing yourself and your company a favor.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Smiling Could Improve Your Athletic Performance—But Your Grins Can't Be Fake
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Athletes obviously enjoy breaking a sweat, but it’s not often that you’ll see one break into a smile while in the throes of competition. Yet that’s exactly what many coaches instruct them to do: Grinning mid-race has been said to relax muscles and boost physical performance. Recently, a group of researchers put this theory to the test, according to The New York Times. Their findings were published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales instructed a group of 24 non-professional runners—both men and women—to shift between smiles and scowls while running on a treadmill. The volunteers were told that the experiment would measure how certain factors affected the amount of oxygen they used while jogging at various running speeds.

For the experiment’s first stage, runners wore face masks that measured their breathing. As they exercised until fatigue, researchers asked them to rate how they felt and report their coping strategies—for example, whether were they ignoring their pain or embracing it.

The study’s second segment required volunteers to engage in four individual runs, each lasting for six minutes. Mid-run, they were told to smile both genuinely and continuously, to scowl, to relax their torsos using a visualization technique, or to simply fall back on their usual endurance mindsets.

Smiles didn’t always improve runners’ performances. A few subjects picked up the pace while grimacing, possibly because these “game faces” made them ultra-determined to beat their personal records. But overall, runners with smiles were nearly 3 percent more efficient than normal. While seemingly insignificant, this difference is large enough to affect someone’s race performance, experts say.

Keeping in mind the study’s small size, the authors conclude that exercising while smiling might reduce muscular tension and thus amp up performance. But in order to gain this positive effect, athletes must beam genuinely. Fake smiles, like the kind you’ll see in school pictures, don’t work as many facial muscles, and therefore result in lower levels of relaxation.

Since it’s hard for anyone (let alone a focused athlete) to maintain an authentic smile during prolonged periods of strenuous activity, scientists suggest smiling near a race’s end, in 30-second intervals.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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