Coffee or Exercise for More Productivity at Work?

An important meeting is 30 minutes that needs your utmost attention and participation.  Your boss is expecting you to fill in vital details that can close a huge sale.  The problem is you’ve been sitting and staring at spreadsheets for the past hour and about to fall asleep.  What is the best course of action?

  • Drink 2-3 cups of coffee to wake up
  • Do nothing
  • Walk up and down the stairs in the emergency exit for 10 minutes, 15 minutes before the meeting
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Typical thoughts would be the first choice.  Some may try to push through and step into the room like a superhero and nail the presentation.  Science and the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Report by the CDC states the last option is best. 

I know what you’re thinking, “how can walking up and down the stairs for 10 minutes do anything but get me sweaty and out of sorts?”  Let me calm you fears, my friends, with some facts not fake news.  These are some of the findings in the CDC’s report from 2018.

  • A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity will reduce blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, improve sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms, and improve cognition on the day that it is performed.
  • Strong evidence demonstrates that acute bouts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity have a transient benefit for cognition, including attention, memory, crystalized intelligence, processing speed, and executive control during the post-recovery period following a bout of exercise.
  • The largest positive effects are observed from 11 to 20 minutes after the bout of activity.

Granted, the CDC is under fire for their confusion on pandemic guidelines.  These came out two years before the word coronavirus was trendy.  Also, they spent 10 years researching and updating their original report from 2008 to deliver these guidelines, not 10 days as it seems now. 

You can apply these principles to any complex task you have at work.  They also apply equally well for your children before taking tests.  Maybe schools should read this evidence, but that’s another story for another day.  Of course, you know the physical benefits a few added steps can do for your heart, lungs, and weight loss. 

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The key phrasing in all of this is moderate-to-vigorous.  That means your breathing is a little labored, yet you can still hold a conversation.  It is not a leisurely stroll around the parking lot or to the break room for another donut.  Some exertion is required, also does not require playing a 90-minute soccer game.  Using that as your template, there are many activities you can do that you enjoy achieving moderate-to-vigorous.  Point is, do it!

An even better part of these findings is they occur naturally.  You do not have to make crystallized intelligence and processing happen, they do automatically in the brain just from elevating your heart rate to moderate-to-vigorous.  How awesome is the human body?!  All of these are organic byproducts of moving around a little more with slightly higher intensity.  No purchase necessary and no negative side effects. 

If you do not experience what a 10-year study says, I will send you a $10 gift card to the coffee store of your choice!  Email me at athleteinthegameoflife@gmail.com and give me your details why the evidence did not work for you.  If you need more suggestions, email me also.  My aim is to help you perform better in your career.

5 Minute Routine at Work to Reduce Back & Neck Pain

The end of the pandemic is here!  No, it’s not.  Yes, it is!  No, it’s not.

Whichever end of the spectrum you choose to believe in, the truth is your neck and back pain from siting are here to stay unless you do something about it.  Every article on LinkedIn pushes a hybrid working from home and going into the office.  Whether that is true or not remains to be seen.

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A typical going into the office day:

  • 30–45-minute commute sitting each way (driving, carpool, public transportation)
  • 6-7 hours sitting at your desk, in a meeting, on sales calls, etc
  • 1 hour sitting at lunch
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A typical home office day:

  • 8-9 hours sitting at your dining room table, couch, or home office chair
  • Driving an hour for carpool or sports practice
  • 1-2 hour sitting while on devices/TV at night

Regardless of which method or combination of methods you choose for work, developing chronic pain from sitting is guaranteed!  What the pandemic did was increase the attachment to devices by requiring workers to be on more meetings than before as a way to ensure people are “working”.  If you were in denial of feeling the pain before March 2020, you probably aren’t now.

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How can you alleviate your muscle imbalances and pain while still being productive?  There are a number of stretches and exercises you can do standing next to your workstation, whether it’s in a traditional office sense or at your dining room office.  I’m asked in all my interviews by radio and podcast hosts how often should a person stand up and move around.  The answer is whenever possible.  Use that technology to set an alarm as a reminder to at least stand for two minutes every hour at the minimum. 

For those a little more ambitious that care about their health, here is a five-minute routine you can do twice or three times per day, without getting sweaty.

  • Arm flaps:  extend your arms at shoulder height to your sides, thumbs up.  With shoulders back, head looking forward and in line with your spine, raise your arms to touch thumbs above your head.  Lower them back to shoulder height in the starting position.  Repeat 15 times
  • Face pulls:  extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height palms facing down.  With shoulders back and head in line with your spine, pull your arms back toward your face, then return to the starting position.  Repeat 15 times.
  • 1 leg RDL with reach:  stand on one leg (use a wall or chair for balance if needed), extend the opposite arm at a 45-degree angle toward your head.  Reach across your body and touch the opposite knee of the leg you’re standing on keeping your arm straight and return to the starting position.  Do not lock your knee, keep it with a slight flex as you normally would while standing.  Repeat 10 times on one leg then switch.  As you get stronger and better balance, touch lower on your leg toward your foot.

These three movements can be done anywhere and anytime without weights.  All age groups (yes even kids doing online school) can do these and benefit.  The muscles worked are your hamstrings, rear deltoids, rhomboids, and mid trapezius.  These are muscles that get over-lengthened while sitting and typing on your laptop because you are hunched over.  Give them a try and email me at athleteinthegameoflife@gmail.com with how you feel after trying daily for a week.  You can also post on my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  Want more help?  Sign up for my course Overcoming Chronic Pain Through Stretching & Strengthening.  Guaranteed to make a difference or your money back!

On Your Butt and In Pain – From My Book The Athlete in the Game of Life

I have a client who has no choice — she has to sit on the job.

That’s because she’s an amputee who lost her left lower leg in a lawn mower accident as a child. She now works in medicine, assisting surgeries for most of the day and in her office for the remaining hours—and during all that time, she’s sitting. When she started experiencing pain because of it, she came to me. Since I’m a Corrective Exercise Specialist, I was able to assess and work with her in addressing the dysfunction in her hips and hamstrings, the result of prolonged sitting.

Many fitness trainers, however, ignore those particular muscles. They’re used to guys who want to bulk up the upper half of their bodies and women who focus on glutes, quadriceps, triceps, and anything abdominal related. So, I felt gratified and validated when my client showed me an article in a magazine dedicated to helping amputees in all aspects of life. The article suggested all the exercises I had her do in previous sessions to increase mobility and strength in her hamstrings and hips — and she was impressed that I knew to focus on those muscles, since I had never worked with an amputee before.  I told her it was simply a result of all my experience working with executives and other individuals who were relatively sedentary — I learned over time where the physical problems hit the hardest and how to correct those imbalances.

It all centers on the hips. From an evolution standpoint, we weren’t built to sit for long periods of time. Your muscles have to work overtime to support it, and you end up stretching hamstring muscles, tightening your quadriceps and remodeling your hips. Also, nerves can become compressed and common issues such as sciatica (back pain) can occur.

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When you stop sitting and decide to get upright, you’ve got more potential problems on your hands — or more accurately, in your hips. When you go to stand up, you end up trying to put the pelvis back into a standing position and some of these muscles get irritated and strained in the process. Lower back pain is a frequent result. The hips, while often overlooked, are critical to your body’s alignment of your legs and torso. They must be strong to do that job — but sitting weakens them and gravity suddenly becomes your worst enemy. Your legs will collapse inward, put pressure on your kneecaps and eventually cause flat feet.

But at any rate, now you’re standing. When you go ahead and take a step, however, and the hips are no longer strong enough to hold themselves up, you end up with hip pain. Meanwhile, the lower back tries to take some of the burden off the hips — and that’s not good for the lower back. The pain that results travels up the spine and in your neck. And you can also end up throwing out your lower back.

All of this negatively affects your posture, because you’re twisting your muscles into positions they don’t much care for. Those muscles become strained and it creates more weakness in your body.

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The fact is mobility in the hips is key to movement in all directions. The glutes are the largest muscle of the body and responsible for producing power when you squat, lunge, jump, swing a golf club, pick up a bag of mulch, and all other movements related to bending at the knee and lowering your hips. All those movements become much more difficult when your hips lack the strength and flexibility to function properly. As you grow older, you begin to have basic balance issues and falls are the unfortunate result. I actually see this developing in people as young as their early 40’s!

To order my book, The Athlete in the Game of Life, go to my website mattpeale.com and click the banner at the top. You can also download my free report on back pain to enter for a free signed copy of my book. You win either way!

3 Muscles to Strengthen for an Improved Squat

You hit a plateau at the gym.  Don’t worry, we all do it.  The question is how do you overcome it?  Let’s talk about one of the mainstays of all lifts for everyone: squats!  If you’re a typical 9-to-5 worker who sits all day (yes WFH also), you have a constant battle of tight quadriceps (thighs), calf muscles, and hip flexors.  What you don’t realize are their weak counterparts that need strengthening to help you push through the plateau.

“I really don’t warm up except for a light stretch or 10 minutes on the treadmill, if that.”  Again, you’re a typical gym goer trying to maximize an hour away from kids, spouses, errands, and reality.  While you don’t really push yourself for fear of injury, you know there’s a hole in your heart because you’re capable of more.  I’m not talking about doing a 405lb max lift.  If you can get another 3-4 reps or add 20lbs more, the feeling of accomplishment is priceless.

What are those complementary muscles I previously mentioned that need strengthening?  They are your hamstrings, anterior tibialis, and glute medius.  You’ve heard of hamstrings and glutes, but what are the anterior tibialis and glute medius?  The anterior tibialis is the muscle in your shin, they contract when you point your toes up.  The glute medius is on the side of your butt muscles and help pull/rotate your leg out/away from your body.  All these muscles become weak and lengthened as we sit for hours each day.  True, there are more muscles that could be strengthened, we will stick to these as a foundation.

Starting with the ground up, the anterior tibialis is rarely thought of much less worked.  A very simple exercise to increase mobility and strength is to do ankle flips.  Ankle flips are walking like you have swim fins on.  Take a step and put your heel on the ground and point your toes up high as possible.  Walk about half your normal stride, repeating this process with each step.  Perform 24 steps total (12 per foot) for two sets as part of your warm-ups.  Or, have a friend hold a band or tubing around your toes and pull your toes towards you without lifting your leg.  Strengthening these muscles reduces your forward lean and helps you stay balanced and get lower on your squat descent. 

The hamstrings are usually worked in a leg routine.  I’m going to discuss how to isolate and strengthen them as part of corrective exercise, not just your normal workout.  If your gym has a leg curl machine you can do with one leg at a time, use it.  Here’s the difference: you’re doing a 4 second down portion of the lift, 2 second hold on the bottom, and 1 second to raise back up.  Do 12-15 reps for 2 sets.  You can use a seated or lying leg curl machine for this tempo. This method is called eccentric or negative training and is very effective for overcoming muscle imbalances.

The glute medius is more worked by women in their attempts to get a shapely and/or bigger butt.  It is what it is, I’m not judging.  What most women don’t know is what muscle and why they’re doing it, only they read it in Shape magazine or saw a YouTube video.  From a functional standpoint of squatting, stable glute medius muscles are important to keep the knees in line with your toes and to counteract tight groin muscles.  You can put a band or tubing around your knees, squat slightly into an athletic position, and side shuffle deliberately 15 steps out then back.  Another option with or without bands, is to get on you hands and knees, then raise your leg like a dog at a fire hydrant/tree.  Be sure to concentrate on using the glute medius and not the leg muscles to raise your leg.  Keep your lower and upper leg at a 90 degree angle.

Integrating these three types of exercises into your regular routine or warm-up can pay big dividends in posture, reducing pain in the knees and hips, and increasing the amount of reps and pounds you squat. To learn more about preventing injuries, increasing mobility, reducing joint pain, and getting more out of life, please go to my website, mattpeale.com.  I offer group and personal instruction via Zoom weekly sessions to help your tennis, golf, workouts, and lifestyle hobbies.  Download my free report, 3 Tips to Reduce Back Pain Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.  Guaranteed to open your eyes and give you a new direction on staying healthy and active you didn’t know possible!

Why Your Hips Hurt From Sitting at Your Desk

Men and women exercise very differently even though the biology and anatomy of muscle functions are exactly the same.  Men focus on the upper body, and mostly the “show’ muscles of chest, shoulders, and biceps.  Women focus on glutes, quadriceps, triceps, and anything abdominal related.  The real story relates to the muscles often forgotten, hamstrings and hips.  For older adults, and successful executives and professionals, sitting dominates a large portion of the day.  The muscles that become weak and cause pain in other parts of the body from hours of sitting are the hamstrings and hips.

I have an amputee client who is a successful medical professional.  Her left lower leg was lost in a lawn mower accident when she was a child.  In her medical profession, she sits while assisting for surgeries the majority of her day.  Even when not in surgery, she’s sitting a lot!  As a Corrective Exercise Specialist, I can assess and work with the dysfunction in her hips and hamstrings that result from prolonged sitting and a propensity to not be as active with her prosthetic left lower leg. 

After a training session in her home, she showed me an article in the magazine Amplitude, which is dedicated to helping amputees in all aspects of life.  The article, “Which Muscles Are You Forgetting?”, discussed all the exercises I had her do in previous sessions to increase mobility and strength in her hamstrings and hips.  It was validating and refreshing to read from a corrective standpoint, the importance of hip and hamstring mobility for amputees.  Without previously researching specific movements for amputees, I used my knowledge and experience from people who sit long periods daily to correct her imbalances and dysfunction. 

Foam rolling the priformis

Mobility in the hips is key to movement in all directions.  The glutes are the largest muscle of the body and responsible for producing power when you squat, lunge, jump, swing a golf club, pick up a bag of mulch, and all other movements related to bending at the knee and lowering your hips.  Without proper mobility, your lower back and quadriceps take on the load.  Have you thrown your lower back out?  Probably because your hips lack the strength and flexibility to function properly.  If you’re an avid gym goer and do deadlifts without good hip mobility (as I see most people do), your low back is a ticking timebomb to blow out.

Working from home over the past few months and sheltering in place exacerbated this already dangerous problem.  Older adults begin to weaken naturally, and hips become brittle from lack of use.  Balance issues are huge for older adults and anyone who sits for hours daily, which often stems also from weakness in the hips.  Pain can be felt in the knees and low back, even though it originates from weakness in the glutes, hamstrings, and hip rotational muscles.  One fall leads to another, and I see it in people starting in their early 40’s.

Bird dog

“Weak glutes can contribute to many issues such as tight hips and lower-back pain.  When we sit for long periods of time or hold poor posture, these muscles disengage,” says article writer John Pope CS, CSCS, MPO, in Amplitude.  Additionally, you can’t stand up straight and fully extend your hips because they are to tight.  Have you seen older adults shifted over and lose height?  This is a prime reason why, and it started decades ago in their 30s and 40s. 

Sitting lengthens the hamstrings and glutes, tightens the quadriceps, and hinders external rotation of the hips.  Focus on strengthening the hams and glutes while stretching the quadriceps.  Most people stand up after long periods of sitting and stretch the hamstrings, further pulling themselves out of position.  For more specific help, find a Corrective Exercise Specialist like me.  We can work with you to stretch and strengthen the proper muscles for improved movement quality in all your activities.  My website, mattpeale.com, has great info on the programs I offer for older adults, and executives and professionals.  You only have one body, and investing in it gives you the highest ROI for everything you want to do in life.