8 Things You Can Do at Work to Become Healthier
It's not a secret that sitting for 8-plus hours per day can be detrimental to your body. But for many of us, standing isn't an option. Despite our habitual sitting—whether you're faced with back-to-back Zoom meetings, deep into a web development project or simply returning emails to friends and family—finding ways to move throughout the day can keep you healthier and boost your productivity.
But what exactly does that mean? How can you fit exercise into your work routine when you're already overwhelmed with tasks?
According to a recent Briston University survey, exercise may actually boost concentration, help you finish tasks on time and offer more motivation throughout the workday.
Here are some of the top moves you can try at work to stay healthy.
1. Break up your workday
Tired of sitting on calls all day? If you have a virtual meeting that doesn't require you to present or remain entirely glued to your screen, take the call from your phone and turn it into a "walking call."
Todd Buckingham, Ph.D., lead exercise physiologist for the Mary Free Bed Sports Performance Lab, said, "Throw in a pair of headphones, head out for a walk and take notes on your phone. Getting a few extra steps in can be a small 'step' in staying active at work."
If a walking call isn't an option, Buckingham recommends simply standing at your desk instead, which will help activate your leg muscles.
2. Practice the ankle alphabet
Even if you're stuck sitting all day, that doesn't mean you can't work out while you work. Buckingham recommends trying out the "ankle alphabet" by lifting your right foot off the ground and drawing the letters of the alphabet in the air. Repeat with your left foot.
This exercise may seem silly, but it keeps your ankle and foot muscles engaged and active during a time when they would normally be dormant.
3. Raise those heels
Another sitting exercise to try is heel raises. These are recommended by Bruce Pinker, DPM, the founder and owner of Progressive Foot Care. Pinker notes that heel raises allow you to strengthen your calf muscles while sitting right at your desk.
To try these out, plant your feet squarely on the ground and lift only your heel (your toes will remain on the floor). Count your reps or perform as many as you can with one foot and then switch to the other.
4. Secret cycler
Looking for a little more of an intense under-desk workout? Good news. You can actually purchase an under-desk mini bike system that will allow you to cycle discreetly while on calls or sending emails.
Best of all, these mini bikes are quiet and you can buy one for about $30 at various online retailers.
5. Towel toss
Just when you thought you'd tried all the under-desk exercises you could think of, it's time for the towel toss. According to Pinker, picking up a washcloth or small towel with your toes is a worthwhile exercise that can strengthen the intrinsic muscles of your foot that might otherwise go unused.
If you're able to slip off your shoes, give this one a try. You'll feel the burn in muscles you didn't even know you had!
6. Water bottle aerobics
Who needs hand weights when you have water bottles? Buckingham recommends keeping your arms active throughout the day by doing bicep curls, overhead presses and shoulder raises. You might consider setting a timer each hour (or a few times throughout the day) to remind yourself to grab your water bottles and start pumping H2O.
7. Hug your chair
Stretches are also important to keep your body limber and flexible, and you can perform many of them while sitting. Buckingham offers two stretches you can do quickly, right from your desk chair.
For the first one, you'll reach behind your chair (with both arms) and stick your chest out. This will stretch your shoulders and chest, which will no doubt be feeling the burden of sitting at a keyboard all day.
The second requires you to sit up straight and then turn your upper body to one side, grabbing onto the chair behind you. This will help stretch your lower back, which is likely to be tight after hours in a stationary position.
Repeat every hour or as you have time throughout the workday.
8. Some simple neck tech
For many of us, it's our neck that suffers from hours glued to a screen. If that's the case for you, try seeing your desk from a new perspective by tilting your neck gently to each side. You can also tilt your neck so your ear reaches your shoulder and apply gentle pressure as needed.
Small moves, often
While you may not be able to do jumping jacks or squats in your cubicle—especially if your boss is watching—your exercise moves don't need to be extreme to keep your body feeling great. Even if you're forced to sit all day at your desk, there are lots of small moves you can make that'll keep your body feeling more active, loose and energized throughout the day.
The most important rule is to walk as much as you can when you can, especially if you're looking at a screen all day.
Prepare yourself to feel amazing after sitting down all day.