Desk Workouts: Several Ways to Workout At Work

Via  Giphy

Via Giphy

By Jessica Hamlin

Perhaps you’ve heard, “sitting is the new smoking.”

While that may sound dramatic, health experts are genuinely concerned about the toll that sitting for hours a day at a desk, in the car, or on the couch are taking on our health.

"We are made to move, not sit at a desk 12 hours a day," Joan Price, author of The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book, tells WebMD.

The Risks of Long-Term Sitting/Being Sedentary

A study published in the journal Diabetologia in November 2012 analyzed the results of 18 studies with a total of nearly 800,000 participants, the LA Times reports. When comparing people who spent the most time sitting with those who spent the least time, researchers found increases in:

  • risks of diabetes (112%)
  • cardiovascular events (147%)
  • death from cardiovascular causes (90%)
  • death from all causes (49%)

According to James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D. of the Mayo Clinic, prolonged sitting has also been linked to:

  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels seemingly increased risk of death from cancer

But just because you may workout before or after all that sitting that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.

Research shows that even when people workout it doesn’t counteract the effects of long-term sitting. Yikes.

Standing desks are gaining popularity too, but in that case people are often still sedentary for hours, just standing. And long-term standing also comes with its own health issues.

How to Reduce the Effects of Being Sedentary


As long as you have a job or lifestyle that involves sitting or being still for long periods of time, you’ll need to incorporate more movement into your day. As we mentioned, a block of exercise before or after a lengthy time of sitting doesn’t undo the effects on your health so it’s important to also move throughout your day.

Levine of the Mayo Clinic adds:

“The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For starters, you'll burn more calories. This might lead to weight loss and increased energy. Even better, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you're standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.”

Make it Work

Depending on your work or life situation you may or may not have the space, privacy or flexibility to move more, go on walks, or do certain exercises. But no matter what, you can do something and make it work for you.


It’s important to advocate for your health. When it comes to dealing with several hours at a desk, stand up for yourself—literally and figuratively. While it can be the norm for people to work long hours being still, staring at a screen, eating at their desk and not saying anything because everyone else is doing it and you don’t want to seem "weird" or “difficult,” this can literally be a matter of life and earlier death or serious health issues. Being aware and making an effort to better your short- and long-term health is nothing to be ashamed about.

Some offices are realizing the toll that sitting desks and long hours of being sedentary is taking on workers, while some are not. Perhaps you can mention to your employer that you need a certain workspace modification or ask about coordinating brief office exercise breaks for whoever wants to participate. Or get together with a few of your office pals and do exercises together where it won’t be too distracting. Chances are, others want to get up or move around more too but may be self-conscious about it.

A healthy worker makes for a better worker and—bonus for your employer—also hopefully lessens the chance that your company may need to pay down the road for you to take disability leave.

Desk Workouts

Check out these “deskercizes”—workouts and exercises you can do seated or standing near your desk. Whatever your workspace situation and physical abilities, find what works for you.

Get Up and Walk

Set a timer and get up from your desk at least 5 minutes every hour or so to walk. Do a lap around the office, walk and talk to a colleague instead of emailing, walk to the break room and get some water or go to the restroom. I know it can be tough when your mind is in “the zone” at work, but ultimately your body and mind will thank you, a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity shows. Again, advocate for your health.

Burn Calories

Sitting and being sedentary can slow down your metabolism, especially over time. Help get it going with these 5 Ways to Burn Calories While Sitting in Front of Your Computer by Womanista.

Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

Tackle that desk job life with a three-pronged approach.

Kelli Calabrese, MS, an exercise physiologist and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, shares with WebMD her ideas for desk exercises that help raise the heart rate and strengthen and stretch out those muscles that sit unused for so many hours.

Cardio benefits: “Improving your heart rate variability -- your heart's ability to jump from resting to ‘pumped’ -- has been shown to increase longevity and decrease heart disease risk.”

Strength: As we mentioned in our week of workouts post, strength training helps with daily tasks and weight management, plus overall health like protecting bones and preventing disease. 

Stretch:Stretching exercises are a natural for the desk-bound, to ease stress and keep your muscles from clenching up,” WebMD shares in the article with Calabrese’s tips.

The Washington Post Deskercizes

Expert advice meets practicality when staff at the Washington Post tries 12 desk exercises for a week and rates them according to difficulty, sweat and embarrassment factor. See illustrations of the exercises and the real and hilarious results as a team of people usually confined to a desk tries out moves recommended by “experts whose jobs involve studying motion, preventing obesity and generally getting people off their duffs.”

5 Exercises for the Whole Body

Fitness expert and bodybuilder Melissa Transou shares these 5 Desk Exercises for an At-Work Workout that tackle upper body, lower body, and abs. Don’t worry, none of them involve lifting heavy weights or flexing in the mirror.

All the Exercises

Want even more variety? Greatist compiled 33 ways to exercise at work from various fitness and health authorities.

Office Yoga

This helpful infographic from JFK Blog that compiles news and health sources shares 9 yoga stretches you can do at work, plus other ways to stay active during your workday. They also share ideas for what to tell your co-workers if you’re caught stretching, but no need to be ashamed when you’re caring for yourself! Perhaps you’ll inspire others to join and be a mover and shaker in more ways than one. 

Via JFK Blog

Via JFK Blog

(Thumbnail Photo: imtmphoto/iStock)

Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor who started taking pictures of food back when everyone used film cameras. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program, she’s passionate about wellness and enjoys making and discovering delicious and healthy food. Her work has appeared in Clean Plates, NPR affiliate KPCC, AOL, and Eater LA.   


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