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Drs. Oz & Roizen: Your Body at Work

Use our tips to be healthier and more relaxed on the job

Mehmet Oz

Want to sneak some exercise into your workday? In this issue, we give you some ideas for achieving that goal—and for dealing with some other job-related health issues.

Q: I run a service business, so I’m at my desk most of the day. What exercises can I do while I’m talking on the phone, checking email or updating files?

A: We’ve got great ideas for burning more calories at the office, but remember that they’re not a substitute for a normal exercise routine. You should still hit the pavement or the gym for at least three 45-minute sessions a week.

Dr. Mike has a treadmill desk—and we like that solution—so, if you can, use one of these at your workplace (up to eight employees can share one treadmill desk, rotating for an hour or so a day). At lunchtime, do a yoga class or take a brisk walk with your co-workers.

Here are other moves to fit some fitness into your workday:

Aerobic jumpstarts: Looking at the clock, take one minute to do a quick set of jumping jacks, run in place (high knees for advanced or marching for beginners) or simulate jumping rope. Even while sitting you can pump your arms over your head and tap your feet on the floor.

Your office-mates may wonder what you’re doing, but will respect your efforts. Get them involved and plan a time for each day (no excuses!) to take a trip up a flight of stairs, do lunges in a conference room or simply walk to each other’s desks instead of shooting out an email.

Office strength training: If you’re stuck on the phone or waiting for copies or the scanner, do one-legged squats with small jumps in between. Or while sitting, lift your butt off your chair a few inches, hold and then slowly lower yourself back down. Or try some pushups on your desk (make sure it’s sturdy enough first!); vary how close your legs are to the edge for a change in leverage.

Stretching and invisible workouts: For less-obvious workouts, try basic stretches such as lifting your arms above your head and reaching for the sky. Sit up straight and tense your stomach muscles. Repeat this action 15 times and then do a makeshift circuit: Switch to tensing your back muscles 15 times and then your butt muscles for the same. Stretch your chest and strengthen your back by touching your shoulder blades together while maintaining good posture.

And for women only: Practice Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor by tightening the same muscles as when you try to stop urinating midstream. (Don’t worry: No one can tell.)

Q: Stress makes my body rigid with tension, especially my neck and shoulders. What relaxation techniques can I use at work, where I’m seated most of the time?

A: The following moves relieve stress and ease muscle tension.

First improve your posture with your shoulders back and head lifted as if there were a string attached to the top of your head. Stretch both arms over your head and reach straight up while sitting in your chair. Reach up with one arm a little higher than the other and alternate.

Let your head droop to the side so that your right ear almost touches your right shoulder. Gently press your head down a little lower and hold for about 10 seconds. Relax. Then repeat on the other side.

Try sitting while facing forward and turning your head to the left and your torso to the right. Repeat 10 to 15 times, alternating sides.

In a conference room or with office door shut, lie flat on your back with a small pillow or rolled sweater under your neck. Relax your body and let your head and neck relax over the cushion.

Practice progressive relaxation, beginning with tensing your toes and feet and releasing while breathing deeply. Work your way up to your head and neck, carefully paying attention to each muscle group, tightening and relaxing.

Our favorite stress reducer is to take a meditation break in the bathroom. Get on the porcelain throne and do a quick meditation or breathing exercise; to find some, you might enroll in our StressFreeNow program at ClevelandClinicWellness.com—shameless plug!—or do an Internet search for other suggestions. The key is to focus your thoughts on the activity so you’re not dwelling on the stress-provoking event.

Sometimes you don’t even have to move to reduce stress. Take an orange, mango, lemon, rose, or some basil or lavender with you to the office. Their scents contain linalool, a calm-inducing substance.

Q: My eyes burn after a couple of hours of looking at my computer monitor. Should I rest them or use drops?

A: Computer vision syndrome, or CVS, is the label for the dry, burning eyes and blurred vision often associated with staring at the computer. Here’s how to protect your eyes from CVS:

Look down, not up. Tilt your screen slightly downward so its center is about 4 to 8 inches below eye level.

Take a break. Every 15 minutes, look from side to side. Then gaze into the distance. Do some shoulder rolls (slowly raising and lowering your shoulders) as you look around so you get a nice neck stretch, too.

Stand up. Take a 10-minute restroom break at least every two hours, even if you don’t have to go. Walk around, letting your eyes idle. Make phone calls on your cell (use a wireless or corded headset) and walk as you talk, letting your eyes wander. Do anything that doesn’t involve intense focusing.

Use eye drops. You blink less when you’re staring at a screen—a big reason for those dry peepers. Squeeze in preservative-free artificial tears as needed.

Check your glasses. Ask an optometrist about glare-reducing computer glasses.

Be a picky eater. Be sure to eat salmon, trout and leafy greens, which contain substances that preserve your macula, the key viewing area of the eye. Try to eat at least a couple of servings of these fish or greens (especially spinach) each week.

Hit the hay. Your retinal membranes need sleep to revive. Get eight to nine hours out of 24 as often as you can. Second choice: a 10- to 20-minute power nap.

Q: My office has a dark gray mold on one wall, and I’m sneezing a lot. Should I be concerned?

A: Mold results from a buildup of bacteria or fungi after long periods of excessive dampness. Because molds release spores into the air, they can aggravate allergies or asthma or even cause a new allergy... so they might be behind your sneezes.

Some molds produce toxins that weaken or kill the things they live on. Short-term exposure can cause breathing difficulties; long-term exposure may also be linked to breathing problems and even cancer.

Here’s what to do: Have a maintenance person determine the source of moisture and take action so it won’t build up; the affected area must next be cleaned and dried. Wall board may need to be removed and replaced. Move out of your office if these remedies can’t be carried out.

 If your symptoms don’t improve after the remedies or move, see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

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