Much of modern life is spent sitting down. Going from the car to the office to the living room is one long parade of sitting broken up only by occasional movement to the next location—where you then immediately sit back down.
Unfortunately, all of this sitting may be causing more harm than people realize.
The World Health Organization lists physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for death worldwide, and study after study has supported this connection. Being sedentary increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, and even increases the risk of dying from cancer.
Among people who engage in “prolonged sitting” (8-12 hours of sitting per day), there is also a 90% increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes. In short, sitting too much is bad for your health and may end up shortening your life.
“People initially thought standing was the solution to sitting but standing is not moving,” says famed Kinesiologist Patrick Harrison, inventor of the CoreChair, and a leading North American expert of sitting disease. “So we need to make sure that whether we sit or stand we get moving throughout the day to keep our circulation and lymphatic systems active.”
On paper, it’s simple. But as anyone who has faltered after New Year’s can attest, execution is the tricky part. Fortunately, there are ways to work physical activity into your life without having to dedicate time to entire exercise sessions. Harrison suggests “deskercise” techniques that can be performed quickly in the comfort of your office or cubicle in order to reinvigorate your body and break up the biological monotony of sitting in place.
“Just find ways to move every 20-30 minutes and change positions while we work, so that we can reduce one of the biggest health epidemics of our generation,” Harrison notes.
8 Simple Deskercises to Try Today
Before going over the deskercise techniques below, a quick word on safety. Some of these deskercises can involve your chair. In the interest of safety, please do not use a swivel chair for these techniques or, if you don’t have another option, at least lock the wheels first. As with any stretch or exercise technique, if you feel pain at any point during these deskercises, stop immediately, wait a few minutes, and then try again more cautiously.
1. Seated Glute Stretch
Begin seated on a chair in a neutral position (back straight, feet planted on the ground). Bring one ankle up onto the opposite knee and begin to lean forward while keeping your back straight. If done correctly, you will begin to feel a stretch in your gluteus maximus (the “butt muscle”). Continue to lean forward as far as you comfortably can while keeping your back straight and gently push on the top of the knee (same leg as raised ankle) with one hand. Hold the position for 30 seconds, and then repeat with the other side.
2. Hamstring Chair Stretch
This will require a bit more space than the glute stretch so please respect any nearby coworkers. Stand about a foot and a half behind a chair with your back straight, shoulders back, and feet pointing forwards. Your knees should be straight but not ‘locked’ during this step as well and your neck should be aligned with your back throughout the stretch. Bend at the hips at a 90-degree angle so that your body forms a sort of upside-down ‘L’. Try not to round your back during this. Place your hands on the top of the back of the chair and hold for 30 seconds. You may need to adjust the chair’s position to get this last part right, but the idea is that the chair will be what is holding the weight of your body.
3. Chest Pull
This makes use of an exercise band, which you can store in your desk when not using. Start in the seated neutral position and take an end of the band in each hand. Hold the band out in front of you and then pull your arms back and apart in a controlled manner like you are opening a pair of double doors. This will stretch the band across your chest. Hold for 30 seconds, rest, and then repeat.
4. Chair Squats
Start in a neutral standing position with your chair behind you so that the front of the chair is about six inches from your heels. Begin moving your hips backwards and slightly bend at the knee while tilting the torso forwards. Keep your shins straight and vertical as you slowly bend your knees and lower your hits until you feel your rear make contact with the edge of the chair. At this point, reverse the movements and begin to slowly rise back up to the neutral standing position.
5. Chair Plank
Make sure your chair is secured before trying this one in order to avoid accidents. Place your forearms on the seat of the chair and plant your feet back as far as they can go without bending the foot (ankles are fine, but foot should still be planted on ground). Pull in your abdomen and hold the position for 20-30 seconds, but don’t forget to breathe.
6. Arm Circles
You can do this one either sitting up or standing down so long as you begin in a neutral position. Hold out your arms to either side so that you make a ‘T’ and keep your elbows locked and hands in a closed fist. Rotate your arm to make a large circle with your fist, starting slow but increasing pace over the course of the deskercise. Complete 10 clockwise circles with each arm, then repeat counterclockwise. Shake out your hands after.
7. Chair Stretches
This is a set of two types of stretches you can do sitting down. For the first stretch, begin in the seated neutral position and link your hands behind your back. Push your hands back and up while keeping your back and arms as straight as possible. You will know you’re doing it right when you feel a stretch in your chest.
The second technique begins in the seated neutral position with your hands linked over your head. This time, you will reach over to the left until you feel a stretch down the opposite side of your body. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
8. Hip Extensions
Begin by sitting on your knees in front of your chair. Place your hands onto the chair seat and use it to support your weight. Squeeze your buttocks and shift your weight forwards while lifting one leg up and outwards so that the remaining knee supports you as you lean outwards. Repeat with the opposite side.
Other Tips to Add Movement to the Office
Deskercise is just one of many ways you can improve the physical activity of your time at the office. Harrison suggests any number of the following “life hacks” to try adding activity or hidden exercise to everyday tasks:
- Walk over and talk to a coworker instead of emailing them
- Use a standing desk or counter to work
- For meetings, consider walking around the building with colleagues instead of gathering and sitting down
- Stand or walk while using the phone
- When sitting down or standing up, don’t use you hands
- If you work from home, try replacing your desk chair with an exercise ball
- If you feel daring, try swapping the chair for a treadmill instead!
Source info/Deskercise photos: Patrick Harrison, Kinesiologist and Founder of the CoreChair.