Take a moment and think about how many hours per day you spend at your desk. Then think about the amount of time you spend at home, on the couch, in the car, or in an otherwise sedentary position. Not including sleeping hours, the majority of your day is probably spent sitting down, right?
To complicate matters, the trend in sedentary behavior and physical inactivity is only getting worse over time. According a study published by Mayo Clinic, we sit more at work, at home, and in our cars than our parents and grandparents did. The health risks associated with prolonged sedentary behavior are very real and significant, so now more important than ever it’s important to find ways to stay active throughout your entire day. What better way to start than incorporating some activity into your work-life?
Here are 6 ways to stay active at your desk, without disrupting your colleagues or killing your productivity flow:
1. Stand up.
It may sound incredibly obvious, but the easiest way to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting all day is to, well, stand! Standing improves circulation and passively burns more calories than sitting.
There are many different ways you can incorporate more standing into your work day. For starters, you can stand up while you’re on the phone or a conference call, and if it’s the type of call where you’re mostly just going to listen, you can even take a stroll at the same time. Standing meetings are also becoming more popular and have been shown to reduce meeting times, improving efficiency. Last, but certainly not least, look into getting a standing desk or a sit-to-stand desk to encourage more movement throughout the day.
2. Become a desk yogi
While it may sound a little silly, incorporating stretching into your day is hugely beneficial to your overall health, and it’s one of the easiest things to do anywhere, at almost anytime. In addition to breaking periods of inactivity, developing a good stretching habit at your desk can improve your focus, alertness, and energy throughout the day.
Vanderbilt University put together a super handy pdf that highlights some of the easiest stretches to do at your desk, and breaks down the proper way to get into each stretch. Per the American College of Sports Medicine, performing flexibility exercises 2 to 3 days per week, holding each stretch or pose for 10-30 seconds, and doing 3 to 4 repetitions for each pose, will both improve flexibility and prevent or reduce back pain. Fortunately, you can do many of these stretches while sitting at your desk, so you don’t necessarily have to stand and take up more space or call unwanted attention to yourself.
3. Try the exercise ball
Exercise balls are a very cost efficient way of increasing your activity at work. Try swapping it out with your regular chair, starting with just thirty minutes a day, and you’ll be taking a solid step toward improving your activity. You can gradually increase your usage as you become more comfortable and gain more muscle mass.
When using an exercise ball, your body will instinctively engage your core and stabilizing muscles to keep your back straight as you work. This does wonders for your abs and back, without doing a single sit-up or even standing up! If you’re concerned about falling off, there are ball/chair hybrid products to solve this potential issue.
Walking is the easiest thing for most of us to increase every day, and it’s health benefits are can’t be understated. We’ve all heard “take the stairs instead of the elevator,” and these days, “get your pedometer to 10,000 steps!”
Stairs and pedometers aside, there are small things you can do to increase how much you walk at your job each day. For example, instead of emailing a colleague who works nearby, physically get up, walk, and stand by their desk and as you converse (assuming you aren’t interrupting). If you want to be extra polite, you could send an email to the effect of “mind if I walk over and chat with you about this?” If you like to bring your lunch and can step away from your desk to eat, consider going for a walk as part of your lunch break to add some light exercise to your routine - not only does this have physical benefits, but stepping away from your desk for a bit actually increases your productivity more.
Other bite-size walking tips include: printing to the printer farthest from your desk — less convenient, but healthier! Making sure to get up, go to the bathroom, and brush your teeth after lunch — with the added bonus of improved oral hygiene! Drinking more water — get up and walk over to the water cooler, plus, being hydrated improves your energy and your skin.
5. Squeeze something
Using a hand or grip strengthener not only strengthens your forearm, hands, and fingers, it helps protect those of us who use keyboards all day from repetitive stress injuries. You’ll increase blood flow to your extremities, and you’ll also improve your dexterity and grip endurance. As if the preceding benefits weren’t enough, after a while, you’ll have the firmest handshake in the room!
6. Set an hourly activity reminder.
According to Jack Groppel, a founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, “[E]ven a little bit of activity, spread throughout the day, is a practical, easy way to improve well-being.” Groppel ran a study in which workers got up and walked around for five minutes every hour.
Using your phone or computer, consider setting hourly reminders to move around for a few minutes. It’s up to you how to use each little break. It can involve something we’ve already described - walking to get some water or doing some stretches, or it can be a simple as standing up and tidying up your desk (be sure to walk to the farthest trashcan in the room to dispose of any junk).
The important thing is to make sure you’re not just sitting for hours on end — each little burst of activity goes a long way to offsetting the risks of sedentary behavior.