How to Stay Active When You Sit at a Desk All Day

Sit less, move more. That’s become the advice various organizations, from our federal government to the Canadian Cancer Society, are encouraging us to do. As more of us spend our days working behind a desk, the negative effects of doing so become more and more obvious. In fact, being sedentary has been linked to a variety of health issues including:

  • Increased risk of heart disease, obesity, and other serious medical issues
  • Back, hip and neck pain
  • Digestion problems
  • Poor posture
  • Decreased energy and productivity

Knowing you should aim to be more active is one thing, but when it’s busy season and you’re powering through a heavy workload it’s hard to think about stepping away for some exercise. So how do you get stay active without sacrificing productivity? Here are a few small changes you can make to get up out of your chair, improve your overall health, and still get through your day efficiently.

1. Take regular breaks
It’s busy season and you have a pile of work to do so it’s time for a break. Sounds counterintuitive, right? Taking short, regular breaks from work helps you refresh your energy and come back more focused and productive. If you’re the type of person that struggles to remember to take breaks, set a timer to remind you to stop. Use those breaks for a quick walk around the office, take a longer route to the bathroom, or stretch at your desk.

2. Move during phone calls
If you have a headset or can use a speakerphone, take advantage of it to stand and stretch during your calls. Even better, if you use your cellphone for work, walk around your office while you’re on a call.

3. Make things inconvenient
This is a small but effective change you can make that will get you up out of your chair. Put items you use often, such as your trash can, stapler, or paper clips, out of reach. This will force you to stand up and move each time you use them. You can also be more active by giving yourself a slightly longer commute. Park just a bit farther away in the parking lot than normal, so you can start and end your days with a brisk walk to and from your car.

4. Go out for lunch
Forget Uber Eats, walk to a nearby restaurant to pick up your lunch for a bit more activity and a refreshing break. Or if you’re a brown bagger, take your lunch to a park or somewhere else to eat it so you’re not tempted to eat at your desk and miss a great opportunity for a bit of activity and fresh air.

5. When you are sitting, sit correctly
Yes, sitting too much is bad but it’s not always something we can avoid, so make the best of it! Slouching in a chair requires no muscles at all and will aggravate any existing back issues you may have. Sitting upright with correct posture is both better for your spinal health and lightly engages core muscles in a way that strengthens them without tiring you out. Here’s a short checklist for how to adjust your workstation to be more ergonomic so you can be sure you’re sitting correctly.

6. Make meetings better for everyone
Did you know you can make your internal meetings healthier and more productive at the same time? Start holding ‘walking meetings’ when there are only a few people in the meeting. Choose an appropriate route, maybe around the block for a short meeting, and set ground rules that the meeting must be wrapped up by the time you finish. When your meeting’s length is tied to a physical limit that everyone can see, people tend to get right to the heart of the matter and keep the discussion moving productively. Your meetings will be more focused and everyone will get to enjoy a bit of exercise.