Our modern lives have been engineered so that we can spend most of it sitting down. Unfortunately, sitting is literally killing us.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 3.2 million deaths can be attributed to lack of physical activity. (1) Our sedentary lifestyles are responsible for increasing our risk of diabetes and heart disease as well as a loss of muscle and bone strength. Perhaps even more alarming is that people who exercise regularly are probably still not getting enough movement in their lives to counteract the deleterious effects of sitting too much. (2)
All That Sitting Is Making You Fat
On average, we spend about 9.5 hours a day sitting. Compare that to the 7.5 hours of sleep we are getting on average, we are doing a lot of sitting.
Then let’s look at the typical work day. Most likely, you commute to and from your job in a car with comfy bucket seats. Or at the very least you may be sitting on something a little less comfortable if you commute by train or bus, but still sitting. You roll into the office and sit down at your desk and stare at your screensaver of a remote tropical beach while listening to voicemails. Meetings, conference calls, and maybe even a little gossip session, probably all done while sitting.
Did you have your lunch delivered so you could eat at your desk and keep working? At the end of the day, you sit down for the commute home where you most likely can’t wait to hit the couch.
See how much and how quickly it can all add up? That’s the reason that hour on the elliptical isn’t going to save you! The impact of all that sitting is an increased rate of obesity. (3)
The good news is that with a little more activity throughout the day, we can actually reverse the inevitable weight gain — maybe even lose up to 20 pounds — associated with such a sedentary existence.
One study looked at the resting metabolic rate (RMR) of obese women. The original assumption was that their RMR was going to be lower than their leaner counterparts. What they actually discovered was the obese group sat an extra 2.5 hours a day. By increasing their daily physical activity alone, they could expend an additional 300 calories a day. (4)
Little changes here and there can go a long way in keeping you healthy and happy.
Also, We Are Sitting Wrong
There are countless ways you sneak more activity into your day, aka exercise hacks. There are exercises to do at your desk, such as chair exercises and stretches you can incorporate into your daily routine. But before we get into the various ways you can exercise at your desk, one of the best ways to eliminate back pain and stiff necks is to make sure you are sitting properly.
Let’s be honest here, for all the sitting we do, we aren’t very good at it. We do a lot of slouching and craning our heads forward. Our heads are heavy, and the further forward we have them as opposed to being aligned with our spine, the heavier they become.
By maintaining a forward head posture, you are constantly compressing all the nerves that lead to those awful headaches at the base of your skull. Being chronically out of alignment causes fatigue and aches and can have consequences as severe as asthma, sciatic nerve pain, disc compression and arthritis.
Making sure your desk chair is the right height can drastically reduce neck and back strain. Your feet should be able to be flat on the floor and your knees and hips at a 90-degree angle. Keep your lower back pressed against the chair to help maintain good posture. One of the most important things you can do to avoid forward head posture is to make sure the top one-third of your monitor is above eye level.
Stretch at Your Desk
These 10 stretches you can do at your desk will keep you bendy and feeling good. Like yoga … at your desk.
1. Rubber Neck
Sit up tall and drop your right ear down towards your right shoulder (you don’t have to touch it!) and hold for a few seconds and repeat for the left side.
2. Reach for the Stars
Interlace your fingers and reach up towards the sky, as high as you can … keeping your palms facing up towards the ceiling.
3. Look Around
Turn your head the left and try and look over your shoulder and hold for a few seconds … repeat on the right.
Drop your chin down towards your chest and GENTLY roll your head from side to side.
Raise both shoulders up towards your ears and hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat a few times for good measure.
6. Chest Opener
Bring your hands behind your back, press your palms together, sit up tall and hold for 5–10 seconds.
7. Seated Toy Soldier
Sit up tall and extend your right arm all the way up towards the ceiling. Straighten your left leg out and raise it up as you bring your right arm down and try to touch your left foot. Do 8–10 on each side.
8. Knee Hugger
With a bent knee, lift your right leg up and grab it with your arms and pull it in as close to your chest as you can. Hold for 5–10 seconds and make sure and do it on the left side, too.
9. Reach and Bend
Extend your right arm over your head and reach out as far as you can to the left and gently bend over. Hold for a few seconds and do it the other way.
10. Knee Press
This one stretches out the glutes. With your right ankle on your left knee, gently press against the right knee a few times. Of course, after you’re done with the right side, be sure and give the left side some love, too.
When You’re Ready to Upgrade, Exercise at Your Desk
Stretching is fantastic, and it’s definitely something you should be including in your office workout plan, but what if you’re ready to take things to the next level? Check out the following 10 exercises to do at your desk. Go ahead, mute that conference call you are on, get your blood flowing and challenge your muscles.
1. Walk/Jog/Run in Place
30–45 seconds. 3–5 times. This one is as simple as it sounds. Stand up from your chair and get to it. Anyone can do this one, you are in control of the intensity based on the pace you choose. Want an even bigger challenge? Bring your knees up to waist level.
Now, before you panic at the thought of getting on the floor in your office … don’t! Remember, you are saving your life! Plus, there are options besides the floor. The modifications are to do them on the wall or on the edge of your desk. If you are going to do them against the wall though, make sure it’s not a cubicle wall or you could end up on your co-workers desk. 10 reps. 3 times.
From your chair, stand up, sit back down and repeat 10 more times. Simple!
4. Tricep Dips
Tricep dips can be done pretty much anywhere. Use your desk or your chair if it doesn’t have wheels on it. Position your hands shoulder-width apart on that desk or chair, then move your butt off the front with your legs extended out in front of you. Straighten your arms, keeping a little bend in your elbows to keep tension on your triceps and off your elbow joints.
5. Pretend Jump Rope
Hop on both feet at once, or alternate. Increase the intensity by adding the arm movements you would do if you had a rope.
6. Calf Raises
Stand up behind your chair and hold on for support. Raise your heels off the floor until you are standing on your toes. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor. Do 3 sets of 10.
7. Glute Squeeze
This is an isometric move. Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can and hold for 10–30 seconds.
8. Shoulder Press
Look around the office and find an old phone book or a ream of paper, something that weighs a few pounds. Hold it at shoulder height and then raise it all the way overhead. 10 reps. 3 times.
9. Wall Sit
Another great isometric move. Stand with your back against the wall and slowly lower yourself into a seated position and hold for 10–30 seconds at a time.
You can keep this move stationary and do it at your desk, or you could go all out and lunge down the hall to the printer and back. With one leg in front of the other, gently lower the knee of your back leg down towards the ground. Like you were going to propose to a co-worker. 10 times on each leg.
Leave Your Desk, Exercise Everywhere
Burning some extra calories at your desk is one thing, but how about getting even more movement throughout the day? These next 10 ideas are pretty ambitious. I would recommend picking one or two to start with and not trying to implement them all at once.
1. Park farther away
There is something strangely gratifying about the ability to get the nearest parking spot to the entrance, but parking at the edge of the lot will help you get a lot of extra steps in your day.
2. Take the stairs
Don’t like making small talk on the elevator? Take the stairs instead. The stairs are a great way to increase your heart rate and tone up those legs.
3. Do it yourself
Having an assistant may be a perk of your job, but if you got your own coffee and walked over to the copier more often you would be spending less time sitting.
4. Stand up
If you have to be on the phone a lot, what better time to stand up and do some stretches. Seriously, go ahead, the other person can’t see you!
5. Take a walk break
Schedule 10–15 minutes a day to just walk. See how many steps you can get on your fitness tracker. If it’s nice outside, go get some fresh air. Put it on your calendar to make sure it happens. Better yet, find someone to go with you and hold hold each other accountable.
6. Live chat
What if instead of picking up the phone or sending an email over to Bob in accounting, you actually went and paid Bob a visit? You get to move more, and I’m sure Bob would appreciate the company once in awhile.
7. Walk and talk
Why not have a walking meeting next time instead of sitting in a cold conference room at a table with stale donuts? And because exercise improves brain function (5), you may come up with some of your best ideas!
8. Commute differently
If you live in a city and rely on public transportation, try getting off the train or the bus a stop or two away from your usual stop and get some extra steps in. If you live close enough to work, skip the bus and hop on your bike or lace up your sneakers and hit the pavement.
9. Get to cooking
When you spend time in the kitchen chopping veggies and looking in the oven you are being more active than you realize. The added benefit of this is preparing your own meals is a much healthier alternative to fast food or something you just throw in the microwave.
10. Walk and fly
If most of your time is spent in airports waiting to go to the next town, use that time to your advantage. Airline travel can be frustrating with all the layovers and delays, but walking around instead of resigning yourself to your gate for another hour could actually relieve some stress. (6)
You now have an arsenal of tips and tricks you can use to help boost your health and reduce your waistline. The most important thing is to be aware of how much time you spend sitting and get up and do something.
Ideally you should get up from your desk at least once an hour, even if it’s not exercises to do at your desk. Set an alarm to remind you to stop squinting at that Excel worksheet and get up and move. Walking for just two minutes an hour can reduce the negative effects of sitting. You aren’t still sitting right now are you? Get up, get moving!