How to Stay Active When You Work a Desk Job

How to Stay Active When You Work a Desk Job

Sitting at a desk for eight hours a day is not good for your body, mind, or soul. We all need some regular exercise — but that’s not always easy to achieve when your job requires you to be parked on your butt for most of the day.

Research suggests a sedentary lifestyle can have a negative effect on bone health and may contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. “The health benefits of exercising have been proven to increase longevity and quality of life,” says Amy Quirion, a certified personal trainer in Boulder, Colorado. “Daily exercise also gives people more energy and helps with stress and weight control.”

But when you’re stuck behind a desk all day, how can you make sure you’re getting enough activity? Here are a few tips for staying active while you’re working a desk job.


8 Ways to Get Moving at Your Desk

When you work from home, you can squeeze in a workout whenever you want. (Of course, finding the willpower to work out when no one’s holding you accountable is another story.)

Staying active when you work in an office is a bit trickier. Chances are, your office dress code doesn’t include compression shorts and sneakers, and your boss probably won’t be cool with you doing a set of burpees mid-meeting.

But there are a few ways to take movement breaks throughout the day without getting weird looks from your coworkers. Ideally, you should aim to do this once an hour, even if just for a few minutes. Here are a few ways to increase your activity level when you work a sedentary job.

Walk Breaks

Wear comfy shoes — or stash a pair of sneakers in your desk — and take a fast-paced walk around the building whenever you have a few minutes of downtime. (You can also squeeze in extra steps throughout the day by parking in the farthest spot, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and asking your coworkers questions face-to-face rather than sending emails.)

Doorway Chest Stretch

Sitting at a desk for too long can affect your posture, but this stretch can help you slouch less. Standing in a doorway, bring your right arm up to shoulder height and, with a 90-degree bend in your elbow, place your palm and inside of your forearm on the doorframe. Gently lean into the stretch, opening up your chest, holding it for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat with your left arm.

Lunch Hour Mini-Workouts

You don’t have to spend your entire lunch hour working out — you can get an intense cardio workout in just 10 minutes and still have plenty of time left over to eat your lunch and decompress. Don’t believe us? Check out all-star trainer Devin Wiggins’s new program 600 Secs, a series of 10-minute workouts that spans multiple muscle groups and disciplines.

Stability Ball Chair

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of a standing desk, but if that’s not an option for you, swap your chair for a stability ball. Sitting on a stability ball can improve your core strength and keep you from slouching, so you’re improving your overall fitness level even while sitting still.

Wall Angels

Think snow angels, but against the wall. Stand against a wall facing away from it, making sure the back of your head and shoulders and the small of your back are touching the wall. Now bring your arms into a “goal post position” against the wall (elbows bent 90 degrees, upper arms parallel to the floor). This is the starting position. Without losing contact with the wall, raise your arms into a “Y” position above your head. Pause, and then return to the starting position. You should feel a slight stretch in your chest. Repeat for 30 to 40 seconds.


These are an easy move to do anywhere — like when you’re waiting for the copier or coffeemaker to do its thing (or at your desk with your office shades drawn). To do a proper squat, stand tall with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Engage your core, and then push your hips back and raise your arms straight in front of your chest as you bend your knees and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause, and then return to the starting position. Do up to 50, splitting them up into 10-rep sets with a minute of rest in between.

Reverse Lunges

You can pull these lunges off behind your desk pretty inconspicuously: Standing with feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips, step backward with your right leg, lowering your body until both knees are bent about 90 degrees. Pause, and bring your right leg forward to return to a standing position. Do equal reps on both legs. Three sets of 10 reps (5 per leg) is a good place to start.

High Knees

Stand tall with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, holding your hands in front of your chest with your elbows bent and your palms facing forward. Raise your right knee to waist height and tap it with your right palm. Return to a standing position and repeat, this time raising your left knee and tapping it with your left palm. Continue alternating sides. Do three sets of 20 reps (10 per side).


Emma-Kate Lidbury, a Boulder-based Brit, discovered the sport of triathlon while working as a journalist in 2005 (her paper, Oxford Mail and Times, wanted a reporter to do the event it was sponsoring). It was love at first race. Since earning her first professional title in 2011, Lidbury has become a podium regular on the IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 circuits, with a collection of IRONMAN 70.3 wins and two top-ten finishes in the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. Follow her on Twitter.