Energize your work day with desk-friendly exercises

Sitting at a desk all day is something many of us do, but as much as it’s a necessity for work, it can wreak havoc on our bodies. Before you resign yourself to never-ending back pain and start cursing your lack of exercise time, there’s plenty of movement you can do right at your desk.

Woman stretching at desk

We look at a few ways to incorporate more activity into your work day for added energy and a healthier life.

We asked Jerome Weinberg, instructor at True Pilates New York, for some simple moves we could do at work. “Pilates is a great option for people who work long hours in sedentary jobs because it stretches your spine in every direction and builds the core muscles that support both posture and movement,” he explains. “It strengthens and stretches the muscle groups, which floods them with circulation and oxygen.”

What does this mean for you? By incorporating some stretches and simple conditioning exercises into your work day you can look forward to increased energy and the ability to be more effective and efficient at work and at home.

Small movements, big benefit

If you’re wondering how desk exercises can help you, fitting in fitness doesn’t always have to mean an hour at the gym. “Small bursts of movement are great to help keep people healthy because they stimulate your heart and lungs and increase your metabolism and well-being,” Weinberg says. The best thing about small bursts of movement: You have time to do them so there’s no excuse not to! “Doing exercises like this two to three times per week doesn’t take much out of your day, and you will get more quality of life.”

Weinberg shares his picks for simple but effective exercises to incorporate into your work day.

Flex forward: Sitting at the front of the chair with your back straight, bend at the waist and place your fingertips on the ground between your feet. Walk your fingertips forward as far as you can with your head reaching below the knees. Slowly sit back up and repeat three times. “People who sit at a desk all day constantly round their upper spine forward but neglect the lower spine,” explains Weinberg. “This exercise addresses the lower spine and helps get blood to the brain.”

Stretch back: Sit at the front edge of your chair with your back straight. Make fists and bring them behind you to the back edge of your seat. Press into the chair with your fists while you stretch the top of your head to the sky and open your chest. Lift your head up gently — don’t throw it back. Hold for 15 seconds, then release. Repeat three to five times.

Simple twist: Starting from a sitting position, inhale and stand up with control and put your hands on your hips. Exhale as you turn your upper body to the right and let your head gently look over your right shoulder (or as far as it comfortably turns). Inhale as you return to center, then exhale and turn your upper body to the left. Once again letting your head gently turn to a comfortable limit before inhaling as you return to center. Do three to five sets.

Overhead arc: Sit tall but let your left arm drape down the side of the chair. Raise your right arm straight up to the ceiling (pressed as close to your ear as possible), and in a sweeping motion, arc your right arm over to the left side wall and down a little. As you reach the right hand up and over, keep your lower hand anchored to the side of the chair. Do this three times on one side then repeat on the other side to promote flexibility in your spine and get blood flowing.

All-over stretch: Sitting at the front of the chair with your back straight and your knees in line with your hips, rise up, raising your hands to the ceiling and gazing up as you inhale deeply. Then lower your hands back to your sides as you exhale, sitting back down with control. “That means not plopping in the chair and not slumping your posture forward,” warns Weinberg. Next, inhale as you stretch your legs out straight in front of you. Continuously exhale as your slide your hands down your legs towards your ankles or as far as they will go. Inhale and sit back up. Repeat three to five times for a full body stretch.

More ways to move

There are a surprising number of ways to incorporate activity into even the busiest day. Weinberg shares a few more quick tips to stay healthy and incorporate exercise into your jam-packed schedule:

  • Exercise during commercials on TV. Try crunches, stretching, push-ups or squats.
  • Walk to a coffee shop farther away, rather than the one next to your office building.
  • Walk one flight of stairs instead of taking the elevator.
  • Get off the bus or train one stop from your destination and walk the extra block.
  • Hold your stomach in while you brush your teeth to work your abdominals.
  • Walk to co-workers’ desks instead of texting or emailing.

You might be wary of the idea of adding even more things to your to-do list, but staying active (even in small spurts) is important. “We can’t trade our bodies in, so it is important to take care of them. If you have a stressful job and have to sit down all day, it’s important to remember to get up from your desk periodically and take a mental health break,” advises Weinberg. “In today’s world, with the demands we face and busy schedules, you may have to compromise on your time, but don’t settle and [just] eliminate exercise.”

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