4 Ways to Stay Active While Working a Desk Job

01 March 2023

So many of us spend most of our working lives being sedentary - Every. Single. Day. From the commute to work in the morning - spent sitting in our car or on public transport, to sitting behind our desk, to commuting home again on the train or in our cars before finally plonking ourselves down on the couch in front of the tv and then jumping into bed. Not a lot of time spent being active, is there?

While it is important to stay active while working a desk job, sometimes it’s hard to motivate ourselves when our days seem to drag on forever. Living a sedentary lifestyle can lead to all sorts of health problems – including obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression. The World Health Organisation advises that engaging in regular physical activity – specifically 150 minutes spread throughout the week – can help reduce your risk of being overweight or obese.

We’ve put together four ways that you can stay active while working in an office, so you can rack up 150 minutes each week!

1. Join a gym

*Cue internal groaning* Ok, ok we know – joining the gym usually only seems like a good idea when we want to make a new year’s resolution, or our pants feel a little bit tight, but joining a gym can actually be fun! Hear us out – signing up for a gym membership doesn’t always mean you have to go to walk aimlessly on a treadmill for hours, or to pump weights next to body builders (but hey, if that’s your cup of tea – go for it!) There are plenty of different options depending on which gym you sign up for, including group exercise classes, swimming, meditation, yoga, reformer pilates and so much more.

If you find a gym you like, you can also talk to the staff about working one on one or in a small group to do some personal training, where you will be able to work with a trainer who targets your specific needs, provide dietary advice and can help answer any questions you have.

If you’d rather give a presentation to a room full of serious board members than walk through the doors of a gym, try signing up with a friend or partner to make you feel a bit more comfortable.

2. Invest in a fit ball

Fit ball? More like SIT BALL! Investing in a fit ball for your desk instead of a normal office chair is a small way to keep your body active without you even realising and encourages something called “active sitting”. Sitting on a fit ball for up to 20 minutes a day can help to activate your core, improve your posture and increase your energy expenditure due to the ball prompting frequent position shifts.

However, while using these balls in place of an office chair can promote active sitting, experts warn against using a fit ball full time in the office. Body Smart Health Solutions advise that our postural muscles fatigue quickly, and most people have a maximum of up to 20 minutes before these muscles get too challenged. Once they are fatigued, many of us tend to slouch or recruit larger muscle groups for postural stability which can lead to dysfunctional muscle recruitment patterns being established. So while a fit ball is great for engaging different muscle groups, remember that it shouldn’t be a permanent alternative for a good office chair.

3. Walking meetings

In your Monday morning team meeting, why don’t you try taking it outside? Departmental brainstorming? Hit the pavement! For many corporate jobs (depending on your role) your day can often be moving from one desk to another as you shuffle between meetings. The next time you have a meeting, why not go for a walk and have it outside? Walking meetings are becoming increasingly popular within corporate environments, as they promote activity while still being productive at work. Besides this, the fresh air can sometimes spark some new ideas instead of the stale office air, as studies show that walking increases creative output by up to 60%.

It is important to note that if you are going to run a walking meeting, you will need to give your staff the heads up. There would be nothing worse than being told you have to walk around in 6-inch heels on a small outdoor trail, or not bringing a warm enough jacket on a windy day! Additionally, it pays to have an agenda written up beforehand, so you know exactly what you need to discuss during the meeting, and a plan on how you are going to take notes if needed. A great way is to take voice memos, or even record the whole session so you can listen back later.

4. Desk stretches and exercise breaks

A study done by Fitness Coach Nicole Crawford talks to the fact that even for desk workers who are doing an hour of exercise a day, this isn’t enough when the rest of your day is spent sitting at a desk, not moving. Depending on your job, it might not be fully feasible to get up every half an hour, but Nicole recommends that every 30 minutes of sitting needs to be combatted with 5 minutes of standing. Standing and stretching can be a better way to go too, as it allows you to stretch your muscles and shake out any tension you’ve been holding.

If you work with a small team, perhaps introducing a morning and afternoon 5-minute stretch can be a fun activity that you can all do together. It might feel a bit silly at first, but we promise the more frequently you do it, the better you’ll feel! You can also do other small exercises at work, such as leg raises at your desk, squats in the kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil, calf raises up the stairs and choosing to take the stairs over the lift where you can – even if it’s only a few floors!

We spoke to Owner and Founder of Aptitude Fitness Centre, Sophie Froidevaux, about how to stay active at work and she has kindly shared her top tips:

Park further away from your office or train station so you can get some steps in to start the day.

If you have to take a long phone call, get up and walk around.

Utilise things such as stand-up desks, fit balls, moving meetings outside, or taking the stairs over the lift.

Get outside on your lunch break and get those steps up!

Take team meetings and team building events and make them physical or set up a step challenge in the office.

Set goals so you have something to work towards.

Keep exercise fun and enjoyable so you look forward to doing it.

We asked Sophie if she had any other advice for office workers. “Get a gym buddy and just go – you’ll never look back and will hold each other accountable. Gyms aren’t as intimidating as you think and if you are unfit – perfect. You’ll be exactly where you need to be.”

Sometimes it may seem tough to stay active while working a desk job, but while sedentary behaviour can soon become an unwanted pattern, it can just as easily be replaced by healthier, more active habits!