I treat hundreds of businesswomen every year at our physical therapy clinic in downtown Manhattan. Regardless of industry, age, or fitness level, the questions I get tend to be very similar. If you’ve ever wondered “how can I fit a few exercises into my crazy day?” or “how do I pick great shoes that won’t hurt my feet?” – here are some answers just for you.
BUSY BEE EXERCISES
What are exercises I can do at my desk, on my commute or just to jumpstart to my day? I work over 60 hours a week, have kids at home and a household to manage: there just isn’t enough time!
Start from the moment you get out of bed. In one smooth motion, sweep your arms overhead, lift up to your toes, and take a deep breath in. Voila! You’ve just stretched your nerves, muscles and chest wall, elongated your spine, and invigorated your day. Brushing your teeth or taking a shower are both opportunities to squeeze your glutes or fit in a few squats. We already multitask in every other part of life, so feel free to get creative with your morning exercise routine!
But let’s fast-forward a few hours, when you’re stuck at your desk. Simply getting up every 20 minutes and moving for several minutes is enough to improve your health by increasing your glucose metabolism and circulation. I have patients who set phone alarms to remind them to regularly take a break from staring at their computer screens like zombies. Here’s just a few easy ways to do exercises using your office space and furniture:
1. Tricep dips – get the toned arms most women lust after by doing dips on your desk or on a low filing cabinet. Start with just 10 and try to get in 3 sets a day.
2. Walking lunges – if your office space permits, do a few lunges back and forth: they are a triple whammy of balance, core stability and leg strengthening. Add 5 or 8 pound dumbbells for more of a challenge.
3. Seated ab workout – while sitting at your desk, tighten your abs. Don’t forget to breathe! Hold it for 30 seconds, then rest and repeat. If you twist and hold onto your armrest while doing this, you’ll access your obliques. Option to lift your legs while holding onto the edges of chair – lift for 5 seconds, lower for 10-20 seconds.
4. Kegels – our clinic treats both orthopedic and pelvic floor conditions, and I can’t stress enough how important kegels are to do on a regular basis. Strengthening the pelvic floor prevents incontinence in old age. Just use your next boring meeting or long commute to sneak in a secret workout! Do several sets of 15 repetitions throughout the day, holding for 5-10 seconds each time.
1. Wall angels – the perfect way to open up the rounded shoulders and forward head posture that plague every computer user. Remember to keep your spine touching the wall.
2. Forward bends – do them in sitting or standing, reaching forward towards your ankles to stretch out the spine and surrounding muscles. Reach towards one ankle and then the other to stretch out both sides.
3. Calf stretches– our footwear does us no favors, so kick off those heels when you can and stretch out the soles of your feet (plantar fascia) and your calves.
4. Wing pinching– stress and computers make our shoulders creep up towards our ears. Squeezing your shoulder blades by together and down activates those rhomboids and middle/lower traps to help relieve some of that tension.
5. Hip stretch – make your hips and rear happy by crossing one ankle over the other knee, sitting up straight, and then gently leaning forward. Keep the back straight as you begin to feel a stretch in the glutes and hip. You can press down on the knee to deepen the stretch.
PAIN IN THE NECK
My neck aches from looking at my phone, iPad or computer for too long. How do I position myself so this doesn’t happen?
Awareness of your posture is more than half the battle. Most of us sit stooped forward with our necks craned out and down as we look at our devices. Imagine a string on the top of your head that pulls you up, bringing your head to float squarely above your shoulders. Don’t let that string go slack as you start tapping out your next text message, just look down with your eyes or bring your phone up to eye level.
Many of us use our bodies to accommodate to our workspace instead of the other way around. If your computer is off to your left and you spend every day half-turned to the screen, is it any wonder why your back and neck ache on that side? Getting a thorough ergonomic assessment of your workspace by a physical therapist is a simple way to resolve many of those workplace aches.
HUNGRY FOR HEALTH
There’s so much advice out there about what to eat – what are some good foods I should stick to so I can avoid ‘grazing’ or eating on the go?
I spent years of my career working with professional athletes who needed to keep their bodies and minds in top shape for game day. Life in NYC, between the subway stairs, the crowded streets, and the stress of work, also demands a constantly high level of performance from our bodies and our brains. Foods that give your brain the glucose it needs to function will keep you from feeling fatigued and will make you more productive. Most of my clients just mix up a bag to snack on guilt-free throughout the workday. Some brain-food favorites include: walnuts, almonds, grapes, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, dates, dried cranberries and dark chocolate chips. I also recommend investing in a water bottle that suits your personality and making it a point to drink at least two full bottles every day. Most of us are chronically dehydrated, and though coffee and soft drinks might quench our thirst, they don’t give our cells what they need to function properly. Headaches, fatigue, confusion, dry mouth and dark colored urine can all be signs of dehydration.
THESE SHOES WERE MADE FOR WALKIN’
I love my shoes, but I hate my feet: they hurt so much! How do I change that?
Feet anchor your body to the ground; think of them as your roots. Over time, anything that bothers your feet will have repercussions higher up – in the past decade, I’ve treated many patients with knee, hip, and back problems that stemmed simply from their footwear. It’s only when fashion meets function that you and your body will stay safe. Our feet are unique to the experiences we’ve put them through, and a one-size-fits-all approach to shoes is just asking for trouble. These are some quick tips for buying fashionable shoes:
1. Know your shoe size and width. If you haven’t had it checked in a while, remember that those numbers can change over time! Weight gain, pregnancy, even sports can and will change the structure and size of your foot. Next time you’re at the shoe store, ask the salesperson to properly size your foot.
2. Find out your foot type and mobility. Is your foot rigid? Do you have collapsed arches? Do you claw your toes? Are your ankles wobbly? If you’re in doubt, see a foot specialist to learn more about your foot type.
3. Earn those high heels. Stilettos and narrow wedges might be eye-catching, but they’re also very tough on the tendons and ligaments that surround your ankle, and can result in chronically shortened calf muscles. The stronger your core muscles and your Achilles tendon, the higher of a heel you’ll be able to wear safely. But if they aren’t strong, expect calluses, corns and bunions to follow.
4. If you’re choosing a “do-it-all” shoe – one that you can wear for your commute and during your work day – pick one that has heel support, a spring in the toe box, and a cushion or soft sole to absorb stress.
With improved posture, exercise, increased energy, and shoes that will keep you moving, there’s no excuse not to end summer with a spring in your step. Look out for my talk at WomanCon2014 for a total head-to-toe makeover – physical therapy style!