MASTER CLASS: Office chair exercise good break for sedentary workers

Registered yoga teacher Natalie Staley demonstrates the Office Chair Torso Twist at Little Rock Racquet Club. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

On average, I probably sit in front of my computer 35 hours per week. Some days are longer than others, but seven hours per day is average.

The number of hours I sit has steadily risen throughout my career as my responsibilities have changed, and virtual work has become the norm. But I've figured out a few ways to stay active throughout the day.

This week, I will share some tips on "intentionality" with respect to physical activity during the workday.

The Oxford dictionary defines intentionality as "the quality of mental states (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, desires, hopes) that consists in their being directed toward some object or state of affairs." In other words, it's about making a conscious choice. The interesting part of the definition is that "action" is nowhere to be found. It's all psychological, but that's exactly where physical activity begins — with a decision.

Deciding to be active while working in a sedentary position isn't easy. Stepping away from the computer sometimes feels like you're leaving behind a 1-year-old in a stroller. Even if the baby is asleep, it could wake up screaming any moment because it's hungry, hot, cold or just cranky. But these days, the phone is an extension of the computer, and vice versa. So, I'm able to retrieve calls, emails, and instant messages from my mobile device.

Unless I'm typing a lengthy document or working in an application that requires a lot of keystrokes, I can still communicate and get things done on my phone. I'm not quite as effective, but it's good enough that I can sneak away from my desk for a half hour.

Each day, I try to perform my big workout before the workday begins. (I have talked about this in earlier columns, along with all of the advantages of morning workouts.) Once that's done, I can sit down and really be productive during the morning. But around 10 a.m., my back and legs stiffen up and I need some activity.

I'll stand up, walk outside and stretch. This midmorning break takes about 15 minutes. I also stretch at my desk about every 30 minutes.

At lunch, I'll walk out and get the mail. If the weather is nice, I might take a lap around the cul-de-sac and open some of that mail.

Lunch is quick, maybe 20 minutes, and then I'm back into the office. For the next two hours, I'm focused on work without distraction. Midafternoon is a great break time, though. Around 3 p.m., I'll take another walk outside with my dogs and stretch. I try to get a little afternoon sunshine on my face and drink plenty of water.

After another short work session, I log off and rarely log back on. In fact, I really don't set foot in my office the rest of the evening unless there's something pressing and unusual.

For me, this schedule works pretty well. With my workout included, I'll get about 8,000 steps each day. If I don't work out, I take maybe half that total. So, the morning workout is the key for my entire physical activity intentionality plan.

And each morning I find myself making that decision, one way or the other.

This week's exercise is a perfect addition for someone who works in a seated position and wants to escape back stiffness by intentionally avoiding it. The Office Chair Torso Twist is easy, effective and appropriate for all fitness levels.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch »]

1. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your knees at 90 degrees. Sit very upright and engage your abdominals.

2. Extend your arms and hands out in front of your chest (think zombie walking).

3. From here, slowly move your hands to the right while keeping your lower body absolutely still. Do not allow your feet or knees to move, wiggle, or shuffle.

4. Continue twisting to the right until you feel a mild discomfort, then hold that position for 3 seconds.

5. Slowly move the hands and arms back to the center, then as far as you can to the left. You should feel a good stretch in your spine. Hold for 3 seconds on the left side.

6. Continue this pattern until you have performed four stretches per side.

The Office Chair Torso Twist is a lifesaver for those long grind days. It breaks up poor posture, reduces spinal pressure and forces some abdominal engagement. I couldn't go a day without performing this one. Enjoy!

Director of business development and population health solutions for Quest Diagnostics, Matt Parrott began this column 20 years ago at Little Rock. He has a doctorate in education (sport studies), a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.