work

Ways to exercise at work

Long office hours and travelling to work by bus or car can make it hard to find the time to exercise. Nicole McCreedy gives us some fun ways to squeeze it in at work.

It’s no surprise that most people spend too much time each day sitting. These habits are having a negative effect on our long-term health and are increasingly linked to being overweight and obese, the development of Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and even an early death. How’s that for inspiration to get moving!

Experts say that those of us who work desk-based jobs should aim to stand and do light activity throughout the day. In some countries, workers are encouraged to spend up to half of their eight-hour working day standing. This may not be possible for many of us, but we can all take at least ten minutes here and there at work to fit in some physical activity.

Being active is especially important when you have diabetes. There are many benefits to regular activity, but the biggest one for diabetics is that it makes it easier to control your blood sugar levels. Regular movement can also help you avoid sore wrists, stiffness and repetitive motion injuries.

Use the space available

Making simple adjustments to your routine can help to increase your daily activity. We’ve all been told to take the stairs instead of the lift, but there are many other things you can do to inject some movement into your day. Avoid sitting at your desk during your lunch break, and instead head outside or to the parking lot for a quick stroll. If you need to take a meeting, suggest that you “walk and talk” with your colleagues. Another option is to find an empty office or conference room where you can shadow box, run on the spot or do a few walk-lunges or some yoga poses.

If you have diabetes, it’s obviously important to be aware of your blood sugar levels. Depending on the type of activity you plan to do, carry a snack or eat a 15g portion of carbohydrate beforehand to prevent low blood sugar.

Exercises to do at your desk

We asked biokineticist Ilona Padayachee and podiatrist Anette Thompson for a few exercises you can do while seated at your desk to tone your muscles and lift your heart rate, without breaking a sweat.

Top tip! Remember to repeat the exercise on each side.

  • Seated toe raises: Seated upright at your desk with your core pulled in tightly, lift your toes while keeping your heels firmly on the ground. When you lower your toes, push them into the ground and pull them back. Alternate your feet. Complete 3 sets with 10 repetitions in each set.
  • Seated straight-leg raises: Keep your back straight, your chest out and your shoulders down. Straighten your right leg out in front of you and tighten the quadricep muscle. Raise the foot off the floor approximately one ruler height (20 to 30 cm). Repeat on the left side.
  • Leg extensions: Seated upright at your desk with your core pulled in tightly, sit on the edge of your chair and extend your right leg until it is level with your hip. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then lower your leg slowly. Alternate sides. Complete as many as you can and remember to increase your holding time slightly every week.
  • Calf raises: Stand in front of a desk or other piece of furniture you can hold on to for balance. Raise your heels of the floor and slowly lower them.
  • Heel raises: These can be done while standing or seated. Lift your heels up as high as possible. Keep the weight on the big toe side of your foot. Hold for two to three seconds at the top, then lower. Repeat 25 times. Heel raises improve circulation and tone the calves.

Ask the expert: Anette Thompson, Podiatrist

“Doing 300 heel raises a day is the same as going for a long walk. People who haven’t done them before should aim for 50 heel raises in a day, then gradually build up the repetitions until you can do them all in your lunchtime.”

How to handle a diabetes emergency

“A friend at work is diabetic, and I’ve never really thought about it before because he seems to handle it really well. But last month he had a scary episode where he started shaking and we had to put sugar on his tongue. How can I help him to feel okay about it?” Sini Webster

Dear Sini,

The word “diabetes” can lead to (unnecessary) concerns in the workplace about productivity and reliability. Co-workers who don’t have much information about the condition often feel unsure how to treat colleagues who are testing blood sugar, taking medication and possibly having hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) episodes during work time.

The person with diabetes may feel insecure, embarrassed and afraid of being seen as different: it can be difficult to know how to support or assist them.

The most important thing is to develop trust so that the person with diabetes knows that they will not be made fun of or penalised for having diabetes. Everyone involved needs accurate information about diabetes and how to manage it: good communication and co-operation lead to a healthier, more productive workplace.

The shaking was probably caused by an episode of low blood sugar. Other symptoms include sweating, heart palpitations, anxiety and – if the blood sugar is very low – disorientation.

It is important for those with diabetes to choose a few colleagues who know how to quietly assist and not panic:

  1. Encourage the person with diabetes to have either a few sweets, 2 to 4 teaspoons of sugar in a little water or half a glass of Coke or juice. If they are unable to swallow, place the sugar or some jam on their tongue.
  2. Once their blood sugar has been raised by the sugary food, they should have something healthy to eat to stabilise it: a piece of fruit or a slice of health bread and peanut butter.
  3. If possible, they should test their blood sugar at this point.
  4. If they are disorientated or unconscious, call an ambulance: it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

Exercise made easy

Who said getting fit has to be a big project? With these five 20-minute workouts, you’ll be on your way to getting active in minutes! Daniel Sher shows us how. 

Let’s be honest: most of us have a lot of things on our To Do Lists, and exercising is not the one we want to do most! Our busy lifestyles often get in the way of our health, but how hard is it, really, to get active? Exercising can be easier than you think – there’s no need to run marathons or spend hours at the gym. In fact, a recent study* showed that just twenty minutes of daily exercise is enough to lose weight and control your diabetes better. Here are five simple ways to get active that only take twenty minutes to complete. We all have twenty minutes every day… Why not use them to feel great?

  1. Before (or after!) work

It might be a part of everyday life, but walking is also a great way to exercise. Taking a walk is a simple and relaxing way to get your heart rate up. Beaches, forests, parks and rivers are all great for a refreshing twenty minute walk, but a quick stroll through your neighbourhood can be just as enjoyable. Choose a time for your daily walk – twenty minutes before work, for example – and try to do this every day. Walk quickly and keep things interesting by changing which way you go from time to time. Join up with a few friends and it will make your walk even more fun.

Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist

“It’s important to practise correct posture when you walk. Follow these tips: walk tall, imagine a piece of string pulling you from the top of your head, lengthening your spine, and use your arms so that you have more power.”

  1. On your way to work

Most people sit in a taxi, bus or car to get to work. Believe it or not, this is a great opportunity to get some exercise! If you live close to your workplace, choose to walk, jog or cycle instead. And if your home is too far away, get out of the taxi a few stops early, or park further away than usual. Using your morning commute to exercise can help you save time, and also make you feel refreshed for the day ahead. Choosing to walk home (or part of the way home) after work can help to burn away the day’s stress and clear your mind.

Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist

“Buy a pedometer and track how many steps you take and the time it takes you to get from home to work. This is a great way to figure out how active you are during the day, and to encourage you to work on beating your own time and setting your own goals.”

  1. In the office

Quiet times at work are ideal for a quick workout: you can do an easy muscle-toning routine while sitting at your desk. Start by tightening your three main muscle groups, one at a time (legs, stomach and arms). Begin with a deep breath and clench your legs for five seconds; then take a breather for ten seconds before tightening up your stomach muscles for five seconds. Take another breather, and finish by clenching your arms and chest, which you tighten by pressing your palms together as if you’re praying. Repeat this routine until twenty minutes are up for a quick and easy muscle workout!

Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist

“Add a few arm and neck stretches as well! Hold your drawer, roll your shoulders back and down, and lengthen your spine whilst you sit.”

  1. At home

We all make excuses to stay inside: it might be raining, you might have a lot of chores to do, or the TV might be calling your name. Don’t let this stop you from getting your twenty minutes of exercise – you can easily transform your household routines into a workout. When you’re talking on the phone, pace around the house or climb up and down stairs, rather than sitting down. What about your errands? Sweeping, mopping, scrubbing and washing can give you a great workout and a clean house at the same time. Feel like watching your favourite TV show? No problem – use this time to jog lightly on the spot, whilst gently punching your arms in front of you like you’re boxing. Just be sure to pull the curtains so your neighbours don’t think you’re crazy!

Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist

“Treat this just like any other exercise session. Start with the easy tasks first, then stretch. Follow this with the activities that get your heart rate up, and then end with the chores that involve lifting things. Remember: if you are treating it as a workout, don’t forget to cool down and stretch at the end.”

  1. On the weekend

If you’re looking for a simple way to exercise and to have fun at the same time, dancing might be the answer. And what better time to dance than on the weekend? Listen to your favourite playlist, focus on letting loose and try to enjoy yourself – before you know it you’ll have worked up a sweat. If you know any ballroom steps ask a partner to join you for twenty minutes – fast-paced dances like the swing, salsa or tango are all great for increasing your heart rate. If you don’t know any dance moves, make up your own! Nobody’s watching…

Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist

“Dancing can be a great way to challenge your balance and a useful way to become aware of any imbalances between the left and right side of the body.”

How does exercise help diabetes? Exercise is recommended for most people, but an active lifestyle is especially helpful for diabetics. Why? Exercise can:

–       Help your body to use insulin better.

–       Prevent cardiovascular (heart) disease and other diabetes-related complications.

–       Reduce stress and anxiety, which makes it easier to manage your condition.

–       Improve your blood sugar control.

* In the September 2012 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.