If your job entails long hours behind a desk, you've likely heard that sitting all day is killing you. While it's certainly not as dramatic as imminent death, sitting for long periods of time can increase your risk of chronic health conditions and may even slow your metabolism, which can lead to weight gain.
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Luckily, there are things you can at your desk (or even stepping away from your desk for a few minutes) to keep you active and help burn more calories.
1. Take Frequent Breaks
One of the best things you can do for your body and your brain during the work day is to step away from your desk and computer and take a quick walking break. Even if it's to the bathroom or to refill your water bottle, taking your eyes off a screen and your butt out of a seat will do wonders for your wellbeing.
Other ideas to stay active include standing or pacing while on the phone, taking the stairs to a restroom on a different floor (or whichever one is furthest away) or walking over to talk to a colleague instead of emailing or phoning him (as long as they don't look like they're in the middle of something important).
Try setting an alarm on your smartphone or fitness tracker to remind you to get up and move at least once an hour. At the very least, give your eyes a break by following the 20-20-20 rule where every 20 minutes you take 20 seconds to look 20 feet away.
Read more: 35 Creative Ways to Reach 10,000 Steps a Day
2. Get Creative With Your Desk Setup
While it's not a possibility for every office, opting for a standing, walking or even biking desk will help you burn more calories while working at your desk. With a standing desk, many times you have the option to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day (like the ones from VariDesk).
And while you might not want to opt for a treadmill or bike desk as your full-time workstation, many offices now have a shared active desk where you can go for a set period of time to answer emails in bulk or take a conference call. Or if you work at home, take charge of your own health by purchasing a treadmill or bike desk for your home office (like this one from FlexiSpot).
3. Stretch Your Body
Sitting at a desk all day can leave you cramped and sore. Stretching is a wonderful way to relieve this tension and burn a small amount of calories. Here are two desk stretches you might want to try:
1. Side Stretch: Sit up straight and then raise your arms over your head. Clasp your hands together and lean to the left until you feel a gentle stretch along your right side. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds and then stretch to the right.
2. Seated Cat/Cow: After these side stretches, keep your hands over your head. As you exhale, imagine hollowing out your belly as you curve forward. Think of making a "C" shape with your body. On an inhale, reverse the position so that you're arching your back and expanding your chest. Switch between the two, allowing your deep breaths to guide you.
Read more: 9 Yoga Poses You Can Do at Your Desk Right Now
4. Maintain Your Posture
Slouching while seated at your desk requires little effort from your muscles. But practicing proper posture — sitting up straight with your shoulders back and your abs tight — works several muscles in your torso, back and shoulders. This extra effort will burn a few more calories and also keep your back healthy.
As often as possible, suck in your abs and keep them tight for 60 seconds or more to tone your midsection. If possible, switch out your desk chair for a stability ball, which will help you burn more calories as you work to balance and maintain good posture while sitting on it.
5. Tap It Out
Unless you have a private office, you won't be able to perform a dance routine at work, but you can tap your feet. Start by tapping your toes 25 times as you keep your heel on the floor. Then, tap your foot side to side 25 times using your heel as a pivot point. You can do one foot at a time or alternate feet.
This short exercise doesn't burn a huge amount of calories, but if you do it several times a day, the calorie burn will rack up. In addition to shedding a few calories, tapping your toes helps strengthen the muscles at the front of your shins.
6. Raise Those Calves
If you strength train, you know that standing calf raises are an excellent exercise for toning your lower legs and burning a few calories. Although your calves won't have to work as hard when you are sitting, you can still do them in your office chair.
Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor. Then, raise your heels off the floor as far as possible. Lower your heels and repeat 10 to 15 times. To make this more challenging and burn a few more calories, press your hands against your knees to create resistance as you lift your heels. (NOTE: If you're wearing high heels, you should take them off before doing this exercise.)
Read more: 14 Exercises to Offset Sitting All Day
7. Pretend to Walk
While getting up from your desk as often as possible is the best way to burn calories at work, if you're truly tied to your desk, you can pretend to walk to burn a few calories.
Sit up straight. While keeping your knees bent, lift your right leg up, lower it, lift your left leg up, lower it and then repeat as many times as you like. If you tighten your buns as you "walk," you'll burn more calories and tone your backside. After your walk, slowly extend each leg 10 times to work your quadriceps.
Additional reporting from Tammie Painter
- American Council on Exercise: Fostering a Workplace Culture of Physical Activity
- Centers for Disease Control: Workpplace Health Promotion - Physical Activity
- Harvard Health: Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death
- NHS.uk: Why We Should Sit Less
- Canadian Association of Optometrists: The 20-20-20 Rule