Exercises at your Desk: Stay Healthy With a Desk Job


The #1 threat to public health is chronic disease. Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer are now our top killers. Nearly 3/4 of our healthcare costs go to treating chronic conditions. Hours of uninterrupted sitting elevates your risk of stroke, obesity, and other conditions because your muscles switch into a “hibernation” mode. That compromises the tissue’s ability to break down fats and sugars.


Exercising before or after work is good, but it isn’t enough to prevent these effects. Sitting all day is harmful no matter how fit you are. There are some simple solutions though. Read on to learn about two-minute stretches and exercises to do at your desk.


Why Two Minutes?

One of the ills of immobility is poor circulation. Pooling blood in the lower extremities eventually forms clots that could travel to the lungs or brain. Taking the time once or twice an hour to move around improves your blood flow.


Active pauses during the day improve mood, reduce stress and release tension. They are also easy to fit into the day without interrupting workflow. More exercise is certainly better, but the simple addition of 10 two-minute intervals in a day improves your health as well as mood.


Commitment to a twenty-minute workout every day is difficult for most people, but two minutes here and there is refreshing. There are even apps to remind you! An online coach can offer motivation and a gentle nudge when you need it.


Stretching Exercises to Do at Your Desk

When you just can’t leave your desk, try these moves to open the chest and back, loosen the neck and relax the shoulders.


Desk Semaphore

Sit straight on the edge of your chair in perfect posture. Raise your arms straight over your head, elbows slightly behind ears. Keep your head and torso stationary. Move your arms back and forth. Bonus if you actually spell a message.


Shoulder rolls (10 forward, 10 back)

With your back straight and your chin tucked in, roll your shoulders up towards your ears, forward, down and back in a smooth circle. Repeat 10 times then reverse.


Neck Rolls (20 times)

Tuck your chin to your chest and slowly move your chin in a clockwise motion extending to your full range. Make ten slow circles then reverse.


Eager Student Stretch

With a straight back, tilt your head sideways toward your shoulder. Extend your arm on the same side over your head to provide a stretch. You may use the opposite hand to add a gentle pull. This should look like you are raising your hand with the right answer. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.


Chair Twist

Cross your right hand over your body to the left armrest of your chair. Inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and twist. Reverse and repeat. Repeat twice.


Seated Pigeon Pose

Sit up straight in your chair with feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Bring your left leg onto your right knee. Inhale and gently push the left knee downwards with your left hand, lifting the foot upwards with your right hand. Bend forward slightly for a slow count of 5. Exhale and release leg to the floor. Repeat on the other side. These modified yoga stretches are great to perform during long calls or when you cannot get away for even a moment.


Get Moving!

None of these exercises requires a change of clothing or special equipment. You may get a little side-eye, but recruit some co-workers to join you for company. Who knows, you may be the start of an office revolution. Try these tried and true wedding dance moves to wow your co-workers and improve your circulation. Try to get the full range of motion you can achieve.


Hamstring Curl (20 reps)

Bend arms at the elbow. Bring one foot up toward your rear end while extending your arms downward your arms so that your hands are down when your foot is up.


Knee Lift (20 reps)

Similar to hamstring curls, except you lift your knee up in front. Made famous by the Carlton. Lift the knee as your arms go down.


Fist Pumps (20 reps)

March knees up in place, push toward the ceiling with your fists and thumbs to your shoulders. Repeat with palms up. Hold water bottles for added difficulty.


Baton Pass (20 reps)

March in place, bent about 45 degrees at the hips. Bend your elbows, then extend them behind you as if you are handing off a baton in both hands.


Awkward Chicken(20 reps)

March in place, bent about 45 degrees at the hips. Elbows bent and fists together in front, flap your arms back like wings. Try to touch your shoulder blades together.


Fred Astaire (20 reps)

Circle arms above your head and down again as you step side-to-side like an old-timey tap dancer. A soft shoe is optional.


1-2 Punch (20 reps)

Rock from foot to foot, punching with alternating arms. Try not to connect with any co-workers. This is a controlled movement and you should not over-extend your elbow. After you master these smooth moves during your two-minute pauses, try adding these exercises to your repertoire.


Slow Squats (20 reps)

Slowly lower yourself into squat position like you are sitting in a chair, knees over your feet. Do not extend your knees past 90 degrees. Slowly raise yourself to a standing position. Repeat.


Advanced Desk Exercise

Again, no special equipment needed. These moves are a little more advanced, but still not difficult to pull off in an office.


Desk pushup (10 reps)

Place hands on the edge of the desk, shoulder width apart, legs out behind you. Push off with as much force as you can. For more difficulty, use a lower chair or bench.


Jump squats (10 reps)

Make sure you have space in front of you. With your arms behind you like you are feeling for a chair, bend into a squat until your rear is hovering just above chair level. Then jump and swing your arms up as if you’ve sat on a tack.


Chair dips (10 reps)

Grab the edge of a chair (or desk) and extend your legs in front of you. Lower yourself down slowly and back up. Don’t do this with a rolling chair!


Skater Lunges (20 reps)

Bend your knees and lean forward. Sidestep on alternating feet, lifting your toe from the floor behind. Stay on the balls of your feet, pumping alternate arms. Imagine wearing ice skates.


Chair Crunches (10 reps)

Sit on the edge of your seat, back straight. Lean back at the waist and hold the seat of the chair with both hands. Lift both legs up, knees bent and tighten your abdominal muscles. Extend both legs holding heels a few inches off the floor.


Repeat this 10 times in a smooth motion. Do not jerk to pull your legs up or suddenly drop your legs. Don’t forget to breathe! Walk to the water cooler and back if that is all you can manage. A trip up and down stairs or a quick check-in with a colleague in the next building are also good choices.


Proper Seated Posture

That hunch is doing nothing for you. Sometimes you really must sit, so do it properly and move every half hour or so. Push your rear as far back as it can go in the chair. Adjust the seat height so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees equal to, or slightly lower than, your hips. Adjust the back of the chair to a slightly reclined angle (100-110 degrees.)


Adjust the armrests (if any) so that your shoulders are relaxed. Place your keyboard at a height, so your elbows are slightly past 90 degrees. Raise or lower your monitor height to maintain a comfortable eye level.


Take a Moment For Mindfulness

A mental and physical pause a few times a day can help you get the most out of your mind and body. Try a Buddhist breath meditation. Observe your breathing to anchor your thoughts. Inhale and count slowly (1, 2, 3, etc.) to fill your lungs, then exhale and count (1, 2, 3, etc.). Repeat.


Feel the sensation of the breath entering your nose/mouth, entering and filling your lungs, and then being released through your nose/mouth. As thoughts intrude into your mind, dismiss them. Focus only on the sensation of breathing.


Putting it Together

Staying healthy at work is much more than a few office exercises. Sitting at your desk in unhealthy and can contribute to chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity. Make sure you get up and move around a few times a day. Start taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Hold walking meetings when possible. Add in two minutes of movement every half hour or so to your day.


Start an office workout revolution. Exercises to do at your desk might feel a little awkward if no one else joins in, so make it a light-hearted break from the tension of the day. If you are really worried about appearances, feel free to try these moves at home first. A fit body, a keen mind, and a balanced life are the goals of this blog. For more useful information, register for our resources now or keep reading for advice on health, wealth, personal and professional relationships.

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