Simple Exercises to Combat Sedentary Work Habits

Exercises To Combat Sedentary Work Habits
Exercises to Combat Sedentary Work Habits

Technology has brought many conveniences to life, including a longer life expectancy and less labor-intensive jobs. However, it also has contributed to poor physical function and reduced quality of life. The fact is that people may be living longer now, but the lack of physical activity diminishes the quality of the lives they lead. Hence, it’s not surprising that the evolution of technology coincides with the rise in sedentary lifestyles. 

Lifestyles with little or no physical activity have resulted in a sharp increase in obesity figures and pose increased risks for chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and some cancers. Sedentary behavior has also found its way into the workplace as modern technology has given rise to sedentary jobs or work that involves sitting all day. These include computer-based work, call center jobs, and operating fixed or mobile plant machinery, among many others.

Physical inactivity is a serious cause of concern, so much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) reported it as a leading cause of mortality and disability. According to WHO, 60 to 85% of the global population lead sedentary lifestyles, making it a health concern of epidemic proportions.

What Are the Sedentary Work Habits You Ought to Avoid

Sitting expends less energy than standing or moving about. When a lot of modern jobs involve sitting all day behind a desk or machinery, it’s no wonder that statistics on obesity, metabolic syndrome, and some forms of cancer are on the rise. In some studies, researchers found that people who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity carry the same risk of dying as those posed by smoking and obesity.

Sedentary work habits may also extend to your commute and meal breaks, spending more time sitting when driving behind the wheel, going to work, coming back home, or going to the supermarket or mall when shopping or doing errands. Even when you do stand up from your workstation to go from one floor to another, you ride the elevator. If you need something from a co-worker, you’re most likely to shoot an email or send a direct message on your computer.

How to Be Less Sedentary in the Workplace

Sedentary behavior may be so embedded in our work practices that it takes conscious effort to notice and do something to address it. There are strategies you can adopt to be more active at work, and while some seem to be downright simple and trivial, remember that your activities, no matter how small, do add up.

Take Occasional Breaks

Whether it’s staring at your computer screen or doing paperwork on your desk, it will do you good to take a break at regular intervals, say, every 30 minutes, to stand up and pace around the office. Talk and catch up with a colleague. Walk to a co-worker’s station to procure a document instead of messaging or shooting an email. Put a note on a sticky note or schedule a regular break on your smartphone so you won’t forget.

Stand Up

There’s a good reason why more and more companies are bringing standing desks into their workplaces. Finding a reason to stand up while working can improve your well-being. Even if you sit at a traditional desk, make a point of standing up occasionally. Do some stretching. Or walk around the office.

Walk at Work

Instead of eating lunch in front of your computer, why not take your meal to the park? It will allow you to take a breather and add more steps to your daily count. Consider walking or taking the bike to work. If the weather allows it, get off one or two stops early in your commute so you can walk to the office or back home. Getting something from another floor in the office building? Climb the stairs instead of taking the lift.

Put a Cap on Sedentary Behavior

It will help to put a time limit on the time you spend inactive. Make it a point to spend no more than 30 minutes staring at your screen or 15 minutes scrolling on your smartphone. Take up an exercise class after work.

Simple Exercises to Do at Work

Exercises To Combat Sedentary Work Habits
Exercises To Combat Sedentary Work Habits

Even if you’re always pressed for time, and your work calendar is constantly packed with meetings and tasks, there are simple exercises you can do in the workplace. Some are so simple you can do them without leaving your workstation.

1. Push-ups Using Your Desk

  • Face and lean against your desk, your hands wider than shoulder-width, with your arms straightened out.
  • Lower yourself until your chest nearly touches your desk.
  • Raise yourself back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-10 repetitions.
  • These work the chest and triceps.

2. Tricep Dips on Your Chair

  • Choose a chair without wheels and stand in front.
  • Palms on the chair, heels to the ground, legs straightened in front, then lower yourself until your arms are parallel to the ground
  • Raise yourself to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-10 repetitions.
  • These also work the chest and triceps.

3. Planks Using Your Desk

  • Keep your body straight; lean against your desk with your forearms and elbows against your desk.
  • Hold for 20–30 seconds.
  • You can do a side plank variation to shift the focus to the other areas of your core.
  • These work on your core and shoulder muscles.
Exercises To Combat Sedentary Work Habits
Exercises To Combat Sedentary Work Habits

4. Squats Using Your Body Weight

  • Stand upright, feet shoulder-width apart with your back to your office chair
  • Keep your hands stretched out in front, then squat until your buttocks almost touch your chair
  • Make sure to keep your knees aligned to your toes.
  • Raise yourself to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-10 repetitions.
  • These target the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core muscles.

5. Leg Lifts on Your Chair

  • Sit upright on your chair with your back straight.
  • Raise your left leg and straighten out, your hamstrings rising off your chair.
  • Hold the top position for 15-20 seconds.
  • Repeat using your right leg.
  • These target your hip flexors, quads, and core muscles.

6. Standing Calf Raises

  • Stand upright and hold onto your desk for balance.
  • Raise yourself on your toes.
  • Hold for 3-5 seconds.
  • Lower yourself back with your heels on the ground to the starting position.
  • Repeat at least for 8-10 repetitions.
  • These target the calves.

7. Standing Back Rows

  • With your back flat, bend forward from your hips, keeping your knees bent slightly and your butt back
  • Hold a dumbbell or heavy object with both hands.
  • Pull the weight up to your torso with your shoulders back and down
  • Lower the weight to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-10 repetitions.
  • These work the lats and upper back.

8. Bicep Curls

  • Standing upright, hold a dumbbell or heavy object using one hand while keeping your arm to your side.
  • Raise the weight in a curling motion to your shoulder while bending your elbow.
  • Pause at the top, then lower the weight back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-10 repetitions.
  • Do the same for the other arm.
  • These target the biceps.

This sample routine targets all the major muscle groups and uses minimal to no equipment. Alternatively, you can use a water bottle, heavy object, or elastic band as resistance.

If you have questions on exercise form or want to start an exercise routine but don’t know how or where to begin, it’s best to consult an Exercise Physiologist (EP). Your friendly EP will first assess your health condition and needs, collaborate with you on an exercise program best suited to your condition and goals, and keep track of your progress.

The workplace is a good starting point to reduce sedentary behavior and combat a sedentary lifestyle since most people spend most of their waking hours at work. 

If your workplace allows it, you can suggest enlisting the help of an Accredited Health Provider to put an exercise program in place so that you and your co-workers can benefit from increased physical activity. If you’re an employer, you can boost productivity and promote a culture of health by providing your employees with access to gyms, sports facilities, or walking paths. 

Remember that figuring out how to reduce sedentary behavior at work is a vital step toward reducing inactive lifestyles. Every little thing you can do to be more active counts. The rewards of increased productivity and improved employee well-being are worth the effort.


Rachelle Sultana

Rachelle Sultana is a highly qualified expert in exercise physiology and clinical exercise. With a PhD and multiple degrees, she combines academic knowledge with practical experience to promote a healthier lifestyle