These days, it seems like everyone is working more hours and using the old “no-time-to-exercise” excuse more than ever. But what if you could actually work out at work?
While you won’t get to the Olympics this way, you can do stretching, muscle-strengthening, and even short stints of aerobic exercises right at your desk (or maybe in a vacant conference room or stairwell). After all, doctors say any amount of exercise helps — the benefits are cumulative.
“We are made to move, not sit at a desk 12 hours a day,” says Joan Price, author of The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book. “As ergonomic as your desk or chair may be, sitting produces back pains, headaches, and listlessness. You become less productive.”
Not to mention less … er, thin. The U.S. surgeon general recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. Yet most Americans don’t approach this level of activity. You know who you are: You are the woman who’s so stiff when she gets up from her desk that she walks like a robot for the first few steps. You are the man with repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. You are the person who vies for the “rock star” parking place closest to the door.
But come on — can you actually go beyond working out the kinks and get some meaningful exercise in your cubicle?
Kelli Calabrese, MS, an exercise physiologist and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, says yes. Calebrese believes in 60-second or 10-minute bursts of aerobic exertion. “This is cardio — if you get in your [target] heart rate zone,” she says.
Calabrese says that improving your heart rate variability — your heart’s ability to jump from resting to “pumped” — has been shown to increase longevity and decrease heart disease risk.
While you shouldn’t give up on your home or gym exercise routine, you can certainly supplement it with exercises done at your desk (and, on those extra-long workdays, it’s much better than doing nothing.) Here are a few aerobic tricks to try during your next break between tasks:
Glance at the wall clock and rip off a minute’s worth of jumping jacks. If you’re a beginner, try the low-impact version (raise your right arm and tap your left toe to the side while keeping your right foot on the floor; alternate sides)
Do a football-like drill of running in place for 60 seconds. Get those knees up! (Beginners, march in place.)
Simulate jumping rope for a minute: Hop on alternate feet, or on both feet at once. An easier version is to simulate the arm motion of turning a rope, while alternately tapping the toes of each leg in front.
While seated, pump both arms over your head for 30 seconds, then rapidly tap your feet on the floor, football-drill style, for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.
If you can step into a vacant office or conference room, shadow box for a minute or two. Or just walk around the room as fast as you can.
Or do walk-lunges in your office or a vacant room. (You could also amuse your co-workers by doing these in the hall; remember Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” comedy routine?). Set your PDA to beep you into action.
No conference room? Take to the stairs — two at a time if you need a harder workout! Do this 5-7 times a day.
Want Something Less Breathless?
Afraid the phone will ring and you’ll sound like a lion is chasing you? Price’s book has more than 300 less dramatic — but equally beneficial — exercises. “I call these fitness minutes,” she says.
Some strength-building suggestions:
- Do one-legged squats (hold onto a wall or table for support) while waiting for a web page to load, the copier to spit our your reports, or faxes to slither out.
- Stand with one leg straight and try to kick your buttocks with the other.
- Sitting in your chair, lift one leg off the seat, extend it out straight, hold for 2 seconds; then lower your foot (stop short of the floor) and hold for several seconds. Switch; do each leg 15 times.
- To work your chest and shoulders, place both hands on your chair arms and slowly lift your bottom off the chair. Lower yourself back down but stop short of the seat, hold for a few seconds. Do 15 times.
- To stretch your back and strengthen your biceps, place your hands on the desk and hang on. Slowly push your chair back until your head is between your arms and you’re looking at the floor. Then slowly pull yourself back in. Again, 15 of these.
- Desk pushups can be a good strengthener. (First, make sure your desk is solid enough to support your weight.) Standing, put your hands on the desk. Walk backward, then do push-ups against the desk. Repeat 15 times.
- Reach for the Sky
- Stretching exercises are a natural for the desk-bound, to ease stress and keep your muscles from clenching up. Here are a few suggestions:
- Sitting tall in your chair, stretch both arms over your head and reach for the sky. After 10 seconds, extend the right hand higher, then the left.
Let your head loll over so that your right ear nearly touches your right shoulder. Using your hand, press your head a little lower (gently, now). Hold for 10 seconds. Relax, and then repeat on the other side.
- Try this yoga posture to relieve tension: Sit facing forward, then turn your head to the left and your torso to the right, and hold a few seconds. Repeat 15 times, alternating sides.
- Sitting up straight, try to touch your shoulder blades together. Hold, and then relax.
- You get to put your feet up for this one! To ease the hamstrings and lower back, push your chair away from your desk and put your right heel up on the desk. Sit up straight, and bend forward just until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your leg. Flex your foot for a few seconds, and then point it. Bend forward a little farther, flex your foot again, and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Unobtrusive but Effective
If the boss wonders why your feet are on the desk, what about some invisible exercises?
Women can do kegels — tightening and holding, then loosening, their pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that control the flow of urine when you go to the bathroom). This will prevent leakage and other problems down the line.
Butt clenches are also helpful in today’s booty-conscious society. Tighten your buttocks, hold, hold, hold, and then relax. Repeat 15 times. The same goes for ab squeezes — just tighten your tummy muscles instead.
Use Every Minute Actively
Whenever possible, “stand rather than sit,” Price says. “Walk rather than stand.”
- Walk during your lunch break. If you find that boring, buy a camera and walk around taking pictures. Some experts say it’s ideal to walk 10,000 steps a day — this can be five miles, depending on the length of your stride. “Buy a pedometer, wear it five days, and divide by five,” Price suggests. “If you’re nowhere near 10,000 — and this takes some doing — set a reasonable goal. If you clocked 2,000 steps, go for 2,500.”
- Join a gym near your office and go during your lunch hour. If your employer provides a gym, that’s even better.
- Forget emailing the guy three cubes over — walk.
- Remember, walks to the vending machine don’t count!
Calabrese often calls her fitness-coaching clients or emails them to remind them they had planned to work out or walk at lunch. You can do the same — put a reminder on your desk calendar, a sticky note on your computer, or send yourself an e-mail reminder.
One last thing: Don’t let fear of embarrassment keep you from exercising at work. Chances are, your co-workers will admire your efforts rather than be amused. You might even get them to join you on a lunchtime walk or to help you lobby for lunch-hour yoga classes at your workplace. So what should you do if one of your co-workers, say, finds you in your chair two feet from the desk, stretched out, staring at the floor? “You could pretend you dropped a pen,” Price laughs. “But it’s better to say, ‘This feels great! Try it.'”
Top Proteins with Sautéed Vegetables
Instead of topping cooked fish (or meat or poultry) with a sauce, use sautéed vegetables, such as peppers, onions and tomatoes. They’ll add plenty of flavor and nutrients—and at the same time, boost portion size without adding a lot of calories.
Replace Carbs with Vegetables
Lighten carbs with low-cal veggies. If you love cheesy mashed potatoes but not all the calories they deliver, replace some of the potatoes with vegetables, such as broccoli You’ll get fewer calories and more disease-fighting antioxidants. (Another twist on this trick: replace some of your pasta with veggies.)
Use Lettuce Leaves As Bread
The next time you make a sandwich, consider lettuce leaves as a virtually calorie-free alternative to a bread slice or wrap. Just about any filling works beautifully. Try tuna or chicken salad, a stir-fry or even a burger.
Stock Up On Salsa.
The low-cal condiment is long on flavor and fiber—and it packs a whole vegetable serving into every 1/2 cup.
Add spinach to soups, stews and casseroles. It pumps up the volume—so you feel like you’re getting more—for virtually no additional calories.
Dress Up Your Vegetables
Eating vegetables simply steamed—plain—gets old fast. Add just a little olive oil plus big, bold “no-calorie” flavoring (garlic, sherry vinegar), and you’ve got a delicious proof that low-cal eating doesn’t have to be boring. You can do it forever.
Get edamame—green soybeans—into your diet. They have satisfying protein and fiber. Try adding them to salads, stir-fries or soups.
Favorite international comfort food recipes that hit the spot when you’re tired of the usual mac and cheese Image: bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images Plus Print
Favorite international comfort food recipes that hit the spot when you’re tired of the usual mac and cheese
You know what comfort food is just by looking at it. It’s the warm, carby deliciousness that gets us through bad days, homesickness and the flu. Every country has its own version of the stuff, so if you ever find yourself looking for something perfect on a rainy day but feel tired of the usual mac and cheese, why not try one of these international favorites?
Spain: Croquetas de jamón
Let’s be clear: Croquetas — real ones, not the ones that come frozen or on a hospital food tray — are little-fried morsels of delightfulness. Like most comfort foods, this one utilizes little bits of leftovers. In this case, it’s ham. Croquetas are to the Spanish what stovies are to the Scottish.
Some comfort foods serve one basic purpose: to cure what ails you. The next time you’re sick, try a steaming bowl of okayu. You may never accept chicken soup on a sick day again.
There are plenty of jokes to be had about borscht, and I find almost universally that the people who make them have never had a bowl of it done right. This is borscht done right, and you will love every spoonful of it.
Traditional clafoutis is a sweet dish stuffed with cherries (pits and all!), but modern renditions take a savory twist, like this tomato version, and are not to be missed.
Ask any Canadian, and they will tell you there is no such thing as proper American poutine, a dish made with pomme frites, cheese curds and gravy. It is the ultimate food for getting over hangovers and heartaches.
The Philippines: Kare-kare
Kare-kare is a stew that uses a peanut-based broth, oxtail, cabbage and occasionally offal, among other ingredients. If any of that makes you wary, I suggest pretending you don’t know what’s in it. If you miss a chance to have traditional kare-kare, your life will be incomplete and sad.
Ah, pierogi. Who can resist the siren song of carbs wrapped around starch? It’s the definition of comfort food.
Picadillo originates in Spain and is popular in Latin countries.The Cuban version usually has olives in it and is served over black beans and rice.
Tortillas. Eggs. Salsa. Chilaquiles are the perfect breakfast on any day, and the perfect all-day meal on really bad days.
Oh, colcannon. It warms my little Irish heart to be able to share this with anyone who has never had it before. If you think you don’t like cabbage, this dish will almost certainly change your mind.
Jamaica: Oxtail soup
There are tons of versions of oxtail soup, which is made with beef, not necessarily oxen. My personal favorite is the Jamaican version. It’s actually a great soup for hot days too, so you might want to hop on this while there’s still a little bit of warm weather left.
India: Moong dal khichdi
Khichdi is a great dish. It’s easily digestible for off-tummy days, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. It has a wonderful texture and a great flavor that comes from lovely soft rice and lentils. Just be warned: Turmeric, the spice that gives this dish its rich color, can stain pretty much everything it comes in contact with. I’m of the mind that it’s worth it, though, and once you taste khichdi, I think you’ll agree.
The Middle East: Kibbe
I feel kind of bad lumping multiple Middle Eastern dishes together, but with so many rich cultures and countries, it would take an entire separate post to go over all the great foods from each one. But most Middle Eastern countries have a version of this delicious dish, kibbe.
Moussaka is technically a casserole, but it just feels wrong to apply the name to something so delicious.
Indonesia: Pisang goreng
Pisang goreng is deep-fried bananas. That right there is perhaps the perfect sentence in the English language.
Sri Lanka: Kottu roti
Vegetables, eggs, a flatbread called “roti,” delicious Sri Lankan spices… I could go on, but I don’t want to take too much of the time you could be spending on cooking or otherwise securing this dish.
Italy: Spaghetti alla carbonara
This bowl of carbs and bacon is the perfect dish for any day, and on top of that, it takes only minutes to make. Just remember, kids: Only total heathens put cream in their carbonara
”Most restaurants (and hostesses) that feature pasta provide guests with a large spoon as well as the knife and fork. The fork is used to spear a few strands of spaghetti, the tips are placed against the spoon, which is held on its side, in the left hand, and the fork is twirled, wrapping the spaghetti around itself as it turns. If no spoon is provided, the tips of the fork may be rested against the curve of the plate.” I went to my go-to guide for all things proper ”The New Emily Post’s Etiquette,”
With the integration of different cultures into American life and enthusiasm for fusilli and fettuccine, ziti and spaghetti is at an all-time high, it may be time to pause to examine what is right and what is wrong with various techniques for cooking and eating pasta.
For example, is it proper, as Emily Post says, to twirl spaghetti against a spoon? Or, as she also says, with the tips of the fork resting against the curve of the plate? Should bread be served with pasta, another starch? Is it correct to sprinkle cheese on pasta with seafood sauce? When cheese is in order, what is the best cheese? Should strands of long pasta be broken before being tossed into the pot?
The owners of one of my favorite Italian restaurants recently convened to feast on pasta and discuss just how and with what it should be eaten.
As the meal progressed the discussion became Mount Etna-like in its eruptions, as to the use of a fork plus a spoon for eating pasta, all those at the table were adamant. Spoons are for children, amateurs and people with bad table manners in general.
Giovanetti recounts his childhood days of eating pasta. ”My grandparents spent hours teaching me how to eat pasta without using a spoon, how to twirl my fork so that not a strand of spaghetti would be hanging down as I lifted that fork to my mouth.”
”At home,” he added, ”if I couldn’t master the technique, they’d punish me by taking all the food away.” Is it improper to allow a few strands of pasta to hang down as it is transported to the mouth? ”If the pasta is cooked al dente,” Mr. Nanni said, ”you are bound to have a few strands hanging.” If the pasta fits that neatly around the fork, Mr. Giovanetti added, it is overcooked. volunteered one exception to the no-spoon argument: ”If your sauce is very liquid – a juicy primavera, a clam sauce – you might use a spoon to prevent splattering.”
The first bowls of pasta, served with military sauce, were placed before each guest. Mr. Giovanetti forked his way into his bowl and demonstrated that the pasta, perfectly cooked, would not cling wraparound fashion to the fork. He ate with great relish.
It was generally agreed, however, that it is correct to place a spoon at each place setting. ”In Italy it is customary to first place the pasta in a bowl or on a plate,” Mr. Giovanetti said. ”You then spoon the sauce on top and finally cheese, if you use it at all. You use your fork and spoon to toss the pasta with sauce and cheese, and you then eat it with your fork alone.”
The suggested techniques for using the fork were: Put the fork into a few strands of spaghetti; let the tines of the fork rest against the curve of the bowl or the curved indentation of the plate, while twirling the fork around and giving it brief quick lifts to prevent too much pasta from accumulating. When one discrete mass of pasta can be lifted, hoist away.
As to whether it is best to serve pasta in a bowl or on a plate, most of those present voted for a bowl. But as for the serving of bread with pasta, there were varying opinions. ”I don’t believe in it,” Mr. Nanni said. ”They do that in country homes where there isn’t enough money for meat.”
”I know that purists say no,” Mr. Maccioni said, ”but I think you should serve bread. It is always on the table at the restaurant. In the family one should serve bread to dip in the leftover sauce once the pasta is eaten.”
As for whether strands of pasta should be broken before they are tossed into the boiling kettle, the answer from this gathering was, absolutely not.
”The reason that notion came about,” Mr. Nanni said, ”is that in Italy when you go to the market, you buy pasta out of a large drawer in which the strands may be a yard long.” The pasta is broken in half to make it more convenient to carry, he said. In this country, however, pasta is relatively short (about 11 inches) and there is no need to break it. If it doesn’t fit in your pot, place the ends in first and push down as the water softens it. Tiny strands of pasta, it was agreed, are for children.
What about the best cheese for pasta? The restaurateurs said that their first choice is imported Parmigiano-Reggiano, which must be at least two years old before it is exported. Pecorino goes especially well with certain sauces, Mr. Giovanetti said, and he named three: carbonara made with pancetta (Italian bacon), eggs and cheese; matriciana (or amatriciana) made with onions, bacon, white wine and tomatoes, and pesto, made with garlic and basil.
Two sauces were made that day by Mr. Nanni and a third by Nico Girolla, a guest at the dinner. His was an excellent sauce made with Gorgonzola cheese, pistachios or walnuts and a touch of Cognac.
(P.S. My own preferred technique for eating pasta? With fork and spoon. I won’t be reconstructed.)
Seems like this gets harder every year! So this year we turned to the Huffington Post for some tips and tricks for keeping the pounds off during the holiday season.
Even if you love the holidays, you can get stressed thinking about how to avoid gaining weight when you are faced with one food temptation after another. Holiday time is usually a busier time too, and that can make it tough to stick to your exercise regimen. If you want to sparkle with joy this holiday season instead of stressing out about holiday weight gain, here are 11 things you can do.
1. Think 80/20. This simple little rule can change the way you live forever (not just the holidays). Eat healthy and exercise most of the time. Give yourself a 20 percent wiggle room. For example, stay the course all week with clean eating and workouts and lighten up on your rules on the weekend. Enjoy an office holiday party but then get right back to healthier eating the next day. The 80/20 rule is a realistic way to manage what you eat and how often you exercise. It works during the holidays and year-round.
2. Give yourself a holiday treat once in a while. I know the pretty red and white specialty drinks at Starbucks are calling your name. You are dying for an (tis the season) Eggnog or Peppermint Mocha Latte. Go ahead and treat yourself so you don’t feel deprived. Just make it a Tall instead of a Grande. Small changes matter. A planned indulgence is better than throwing your hands in the air and indulging left and right because you are tired of feeling deprived.
3. Practice portion control. You don’t have to try everything. Just because grandma made it, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Take your favorites. If you can, try to make sure more than half of your plate has some veggies on it. It’s okay to say, “No, thank you, maybe later.”
4. Empower yourself with standing apart from the pack. Think about this for a second: How empowered will you feel if you stick to a committed workout routine from now until the end of this year? Let others pick it back up in January, but not you. You can keep it going and end the year strong. Set yourself apart by doing what others won’t do. You will feel like a champion. (Bonus: Exercise means increased energy for the chaotic holiday season!)
5. Never go to a party hungry. Don’t save up your calories for a party. Yes, weight gain is fundamentally based on calories in and out, but if you go to party hungry, I guarantee your judgment will be off and you will eat more food than if you ate a handful of nuts before you left for the party. Be the person who shows up with a healthy dish to share. Homemade hummus and veggies? Red pepper nachos? Healthier “Yes You Can” cupcakes anyone?
6. Edit your day. Deprivation can fuel desire. So instead of dwelling on all the holiday treats you shouldn’t have, edit your choices. (Drop the word diet and rearrange those letters to spell edit.) Editing what you want means making small changes to your choices. Eat one cookie instead of three. Plan a healthy fulfilling lunch so you aren’t tempted by break room treats in your office. Decide what to eat less of, more of or what to cut, but take it day by day so controlling what you eat is more manageable.
7. Follow my two-day rule. Another easy breezy rule here: You can miss two days in a row of working out, but never miss more than two in a row. Stick to this rule and see how it works for your waistline.
8. Exercise and move more. Just do something — even if it’s just for 10 minutes. It’s all about doing something. Don’t underestimate the power of movement. Walk more. Spend less time on the couch. Shop ‘til you drop. Stand up. Do some bodyweight exercises during commercials. Make it a game you play and see how much you can move your body in a day — apart from scheduled exercise.
9. Drink water. All. Day. Long. You are probably eating more foods with salt and consuming more alcohol around the holidays, so it’s even more important to keep your body hydrated. Start your day with some lemon water and keep sipping water throughout your day.
10. Ask for a fitness-related gift for the holidays. Why not ask for a gift this holiday season that can support your health and fitness? There are so many cool fitness gifts available. And where the mind goes, the body follows.
11. Rock the black dress. Wherever you are on your fitness journey, love and appreciate your body for all that it can do. No body shaming allowed. Enjoy the holidays for what they are — a time to celebrate the people in your life and all of life’s blessings — and that includes YOU. Go rock that dress, girlfriend.
You don’t have to feel like an outsider this holiday season. Join the party and live full out. Just make sure you devote more time to your health than you do to your indulgences and then you can start your New Year without any guilt for how you ended this year. Isn’t that the best gift you could give to yourself this holiday season?