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20 Ways to Sneak in Exercise at Work—and Not Get Caught

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We all know that sitting down for hours on end day after day can be bad for our health. I don’t want to be the reporter of doom and gloom, but research shows that as the amount of time you sit every day increases, so does your likelihood of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer…and even death. Okay, enough of the bad news. Let’s get to the good news: You don’t have to quit your desk job—you can make small changes at work to reduce the amount of time you’re sedentary at your desk and therefore your chance of getting “sitting disease.” As a side benefit, increasing your activity throughout the workday will increase your productivity.

  • Stand while talking on the phone.

    Standing Business Meeting

    Standing Business Meeting

  • Encourage your team to implement standing meetings. Even better, have a walking meeting.
  • During a 10-minute work break, climb the stairs, walk around the building, or do some other type of physical activity.
  • Park your car at the farthest end of the parking lot, and if your office isn’t on the first floor, take the stairs.
  • Sit on a stability ball rather than on a standard desk chair. (Side benefit: Research indicates that children’s attention increases when they sit on stability balls, and I’m guessing the same is true with adults.)
  • Rather than emailing or calling a coworker, walk over to his or her office or cube.
  • At regular intervals throughout the day, stand up and/or stretch. Researchers have found that even one-minute spurts of activity (like marching in place) throughout the day can be beneficial.
  • When you head for a drinking fountain or a restroom, choose the one that’s farthest away from your desk.
  • Whenever you walk, walk fast (Added advantage: You’ll look productive and like you’re on important business).

Here are some undercover exercises you can complete at your desk:

  • Tighten your abs, and hold for 30 seconds. Release and then repeat.

    Girl Sitting at desk

    Sit Up Straight, Not Slouched

  • Squeeze your glutes for 30 seconds. Release and then repeat.
  • Rotate your ankles clockwise and then counterclockwise.
  • Tap your toes.
  • If you’re standing, do calf raises.
  • While sitting at your desk, raise one leg so it’s parallel to the ground, hold for 15 seconds, and then lower. Repeat with the other leg.
  • While you’re reading emails, do bicep curls with a water bottle.
  • Lay your hands flat on the top of your desk and press down. Then, place your hands on the underside of your desk and press up.
  • Sit up straight instead of slouched over.
  • If your chair has wheels, use your legs to alternate between moving the chair forward a few inches and moving the chair back a few inches.
  • Move your chair with your hands by grabbing the edge of your desk, pushing away from it, and then pulling toward it.

If you have trouble remembering to incorporate these stealthy exercises into your daily work routine, set reminders in your Outlook calendar.

P.S. If you’re not afraid of getting caught exercising at your desk (and want to spearhead a more-active work environment), talk to your manager about installing a standing desk—I had one at a previous job and loved it. And I dream about having a treadmill desk! (Many standing and treadmill desk ideas and instructions are available online.)

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