How to get fit at your desk

Winter weather getting you down? If your motivation is waning and every working day feels like a fortnight, fear not. Here are some sure-fire ways to put some pep back into your step. All it takes is five or 10 minutes of your time; a digital device and a handy little app or two.

Fiona Patterson is an Australian yoga, tai-chi and qigong instructor with a passion for giving deskbound office workers and business people a boost.

She's recently launched Salute the Desk, an app of mini yoga classes that people can do without leaving their office or corporate cubicle.

She also recognises that a mental pick-me-up might be just as necessary as a physical one and that when you're sitting all day you really need to have a good seated posture.

"I've really tried to pack a lot into Salute the Desk," she says. "There's a seated posture workshop to help you build a solid, but relaxed, foundation; then all the yoga sequences and two guided relaxations."

Users can customise more than two hours of audio as well as accessing video and written instructions. They can also rig up alerts to remind them to stretch; save their favourite postures to work on tight areas; and track their progress.

Work yoga

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Patterson says she struggled to find an app that covered what she thought was important for people in desk-bound jobs so she decided to make one.

"Research shows that there are even productivity benefits to practising mindfulness and taking stretching breaks but a really simple test of the difference it makes is the way you feel at the end of the day," she says.

"Many people think that it is tiring holding good posture all day but, in fact, the opposite is true. If you build up a good, natural posture through awareness you actually feel a lot less tired at the end of the day."

In May her app got a big tick of approval from About in its review of eight desk yoga apps. It concluded Salute the Desk "stands head and shoulders above the competition." Among the things that made it a winner: "Clean, modern and intuitive" graphics and seamless "narration and video illustration".

The app is now being downloaded by people all over the world.

Wellness on Time is another Australian business targeting sedentary office-workers and business people. It's just about to launch a program that will allow people to stream a variety of classes on their computer, iPad, smartphone or via HDTV.

The choice of classes, run by professional instructors from around Australia, that will be available to subscribers will include dance, yoga, tai-chi, meditation as well as an office chair workout.

Natalie Pickett, founder and chief executive of Wellness on Time, says the classes have been created to provide subscribers with a choice of short segments ranging from three, five or 10 minutes up to an hour-long class. "The idea is that you can integrate short workouts throughout the day."

If you're worried about slacking off the program comes with a scheduling system that lets you plan your workouts for the day, week or month and you'll get reminders to act on your good intentions.

Pickett says the program will be available as a corporate offer for employers to provide for their staff or for purchase by individuals.

If desk yoga or putting on your dancing shoes in your home office doesn't float your boat, here are a few other apps designed to give you a quick pick-me-up.

Seven-minute workout

Jumping jacks, wall-sits, push-ups, tricep dips - there's 12 exercises all up, each one using your own bodyweight. You do each exercise for 30 seconds and rest for 10 seconds between exercises. Simple. Seven minutes later voila! You're on your way to a new you.

Five-minute pilates

Build your core strength and flexibility by choosing from this smorgasbord of more than 100 short pilates sessions. With its integrated music function you choose the soundtrack for your workout from your own music library. There are 18 different exercises on this five-minute fast-track to a leaner, stronger and fitter version of you.

Five-minute home workouts

Home-office workers who want to zero in on particular problem areas: this app has your name on it. Split into six categories it offers straightforward ways to tone up your abs; chest and arms; or backside and legs.

There's a category designed to promote fat loss and two more specifically aimed at yoga and Pilates devotees. All have detailed instructions and 3-D animations so what are you waiting for?

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Olivia Munn: Hypnotherapy helped me exercise

Olivia Munn was once hypnotised into exercising.

The 'Magic Mike' actress claims she only started working out a year ago when she went to a hypnotherapist who told her to hit the gym every morning at 6am - and she has been doing it ever since.

She explained in an interview with cosmetics guru Bobbi Brown for Yahoo! Beauty: ''I used to never exercise because I just hated the idea of all of it. But I saw this hypnotist (I have an OCD called Trichotillomania) and in one session he threw something in about working out and by the next week I was up every morning at 6am.

''I've been working out consistently ever since, and it's been almost a year now.''

Olivia, 34, also revealed she invented her own diet which involved only eating meals where she could see every single ingredient.

Olivia Munn: Hypnotherapy helped me exercise

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She said: ''In 2009, I lost 16 pounds in two months because I came up with my own diet which was if I can't see it I can't eat it. If I go to a restaurant and say I'll have the soup, I can't see every single ingredient they put in - how much salt? How much sugar?

''I can't see it unless I make it myself at home, so that takes away breads and other hidden ingredients.''

While the brunette bombshell admits she sometimes feels insecure about her Chinese heritage, she thinks it's important to change the all-American standard of beauty.

She explained: ''When I was younger, what I saw as the face of beauty was very standard all-American white blonde hair blue eyes.

''So any time I feel uncomfortable, or I wish something was different, I just have to wash it away because I have to be a role model for my niece, and if I have daughters be role models for them and be comfortable with myself.''

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Why your fitness is vital during pregnancy

Many pregnant women are told “pregnancy isn’t an illness”, and in some respects are expected to carry on as normal. It’s often only in the final months that things get a little tiring: sore legs, sore back and sore neck to name just a few. Because of this, it becomes obvious that fitness during pregnancy is just as important as when you are not carrying a baby – it was just a shame many women, myself included, only find this out later on in their first pregnancy.

With my second pregnancy I made a determined effort to take part in a lot more activities and kept quite fit, and as a result I did suffer less with my legs and pelvis and also felt a lot more healthy and invigorated. I realised that being pregnant should not deter a woman from staying fit, and there are some fantastic products available that can really help when carrying a baby. Many online stores like Newitts offer a huge range to get you started – for example, a large gymnastic ball can help to keep your abs, bottom and legs exercised, which can also help with your posture as that can be a significant reason for a bad back.

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There are hundreds of pregnancy workouts on offer. Many of them are on Pinterest so you can search through and find one that is perfectly suited to you. There are many exercises that can be really beneficial when you are pregnant, including pilates, pregnancy yoga, abdominal exercises, squats and easy wall push-up exercises.

The pregnancy and parenting website What to Expect published their top ten benefits to exercising whilst pregnant, and it’s a really interesting read. Exercise helps you sleep better, which a lot of women find hard when pregnant, especially in the last trimester. And any extra sleep is always extremely welcome – new mums won’t be getting much for the first few months of having a little one in the house!

Enjoying exercise will also help to fight tiredness, much the same as when you are not pregnant; the idea is that sometimes getting more rest can make you feel more lethargic, while being active helps to release feel-good endorphines, which give you a buzz. On top of all this, the natural high means you are less likely to feel anxious and worry about labour and pregnancy altogether. A calm mum will mean a calm baby, and that’s something worth achieving.

Another great reason for keeping fit whilst you are pregnant is that you will recover from childbirth quicker, meaning you’ll soon be back in those skinny jeans that you have missed for nearly a year. It is the same with anything in life, if you are fitter and healthier you will recover from illnesses and traumas quicker.

Most of all, the more you exercise to keep fit, the more you’ll enjoy it. Go for it!

Sunshine as addictive as heroin?

If the many media reports are to be believed: "Sunshine can be addictive like heroin." The claim comes via a study published in Cell based on an experiment carried out on mice at Harvard Medical School. Researchers found that ultraviolet light exposure leads to elevated endorphin levels - the body's own 'feel good' internal morphine - that mice experience withdrawal effects after exposure and that chronic ultraviolet light exposure causes dependency and 'addiction-like' behaviour.

Although the study was carried out on animals, the authors speculated that their findings may help to explain why we love lying in the sun and that in addition to topping up our tans, sunbathing may be the most natural way to satisfy our cravings for a 'sunshine fix' in the same way that drug addicts yearn for their drug of choice.

Reading the findings of this study took me back to 1998, when I appeared as a 'behavioural addiction expert' on a daytime BBC television show alongside people who said they were addicted to tanning (dubbed by the researchers on the programme as 'tanorexia'). I have to admit that none of the case studies on the show appeared to be addicted to tanning - at least based on my six behavioural addiction criteria: salience (being the most important and preoccupying activity in the person's life), mood modifying, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse. But it did at least alert me to the fact that some people thought sunbathing and tanning were addictive.

On the show, people likened their excessive tanning to nicotine addiction, and there certainly appeared to be some similarities between the people interviewed and nicotine addiction, in the sense that the 'tanorexics' knew they were significantly increasing their chances of getting skin cancer as a direct result of their risky behaviour but felt they were unable to stop doing it, which you could argue is very similar to smoking despite knowing the health warnings.


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Since then, tanorexia has become a topic for scientific investigation. A 2005 study published in the Archives of Dermatology claimed that a quarter of the sample of 145 'sun worshippers' would qualify as having a substance-related disorder if ultraviolet light was classed as the substance they craved. The paper also reported that frequent tanners experienced a "loss of control" over their tanning schedule and displayed a pattern of addiction similar to smokers and alcoholics.

A 2006 study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, reported that frequent tanners (those who tanned eight to 15 times a month) who took naltrexone, an endorphin blocker normally used to treat drug addictions, significantly reduced the amount of time spent tanning compared with a control group of light tanners.

Two years later, a study published in the American Journal of Health Behaviour reported that 27 per cent of 400 surveyed students were classified as "tanning dependent." The authors claimed that those classed as being tanning dependent had a number of similarities to substance users, including a higher prevalence among youths; an initial perception that the behaviour was image-enhancing; high health risks and disregard for warnings about those risks; and the activity being mood-enhancing.

A just-published study in the American Journal of Health Promotion surveyed 306 female students and classed 25 per cent of the respondents as "tanning dependent" based upon a self-devised tanning-dependence questionnaire.

But the problem with this and most of the psychological research on tanorexia is that almost all of it is carried out on relatively small convenience samples using self-reporting and non-psychometrically validated 'tanning addiction' measurement scales.

Although some studies suggest that some of my addiction criteria appear to have been met, I have yet to be convinced that any of the published studies show that all of them have been met. In short, empirical research evidence demonstrating a genuine addiction to tanning that encompasses all the known and expected physical and psychological consequences of addiction has yet to be proven.