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Nine to Five Fitness: 10 Ways to Exercise at Work

Kim Tracy Prince

You may love your job, but if it requires you to sit at a desk all day, you might not be doing your best work.

Recent studies show that getting off your butt can lead to a 12 percent increase in productivity.

Moreover, sitting for hours at a stretch can actually have a negative effect on your health: you lose two hours of your life for every hour you sit.

And it’s not just work. Factor in driving, eating, and just hanging out, and the average adult spends 50 to 70 percent of his day sitting.

Luckily there are plenty of ways you can incorporate physical activity into your work day to keep your body moving, your blood flowing, and your brain operating well.

Related Article: 6 Ways to Prevent Employee Burnout

Here are 10 easy ways to exercise at work:

Take a Walk

Need to meet with a colleague in person? How about a walking meeting?

Nilofer Merchant does most of her meetings on foot, to the tune of 20 to 30 miles per week.

Walking stimulates thinking outside the box, so you’re likely to be even more productive than if you meet at a table or across a desk.

In fact, the simple act of walking prevents you from getting distracted.

You can’t scroll through your email or Facebook page while walking and pay attention to your colleague.

In an interview, Merchant said of walking meetings “You’re awake to what’s happening around you, your senses are heightened and you walk away with something office meetings rarely give you, a sense of joy.”

Don't Take the Easy Way

If you can get to work any other way besides driving in your car, you should. Walk, take public transit, or bike to work.

When you have to chat with a coworker about a project, skip the phone and visit her even if her office is all the way across the building.

At 10 Red Design in Skaneateles, NY, employees can use a Razor scooter to get from one side of the building to the other.

Even when used “simply as a means for fun, as there is a ramp so we try to see how far we can go without pushing,” as designer Chris Tjaden shares, the frivolity can be a great stress relief.

Stand Up

The evolution of standing desks has gained momentum ever since Dr. James Levine coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.”

As Merchant pointed out in a 2013 essay, the average office worker spent 9.3 hours a day in chair, hastening their deaths by a risk factor of 11 percent.

So, the simple act of standing while you work gives you a leg up on time.

Over the last few years many people who tried standing desks have found that menial tasks are best tackled standing, while projects that require closer concentration were better done sitting.

It’s easy to hack a standing desk together to try it out before you invest in a pro model.

Walk and Work

While a standing desk gets you out of your seat, a treadmill desk gets you moving.

Now you’re burning even more calories while putting in a day of work.

A recent study showed that treadmill desks increased workers’ productivity, but only after they got used to it.

Operating a computer and mouse while walking can be tricky, and with any form of exercise, even one as low-impact as walking, overdoing it right away can make you sore.

Related Article: Get Moving: Working (Out) Your Way to Intense Productivity

Have a Ball

Instead of sitting in a chair that encourages you to slump and feel sleepy and unproductive, sit on an exercise ball that is appropriate for your height.

These inflatable balls encourage you to balance and maintain a healthy posture, using your core muscles to keep you sitting up straight, and as a consequence, paying attention.

When evaluating school children who replaced their chairs with balls, a Harvard University professor noted that balancing on the balls engages a human’s prefrontal cortex, reducing the chance that they’ll get distracted from the task at hand.

Balancing at your desk can help strengthen your core and focus on your project, improving your health and productivity.


So you don’t have time to take a walk , or your colleagues won’t join you for a stroll, or you simply can’t take that phone call away from your desk.

You can still work your body in a small space without breaking a sweat.

There are plenty of exercises you can do without even getting out of your chair.

And you can target a few problem areas common to office-sitting-desk-computer workers.


All that time staring at a screen or down at papers on your desk can lead to tightness of the chest muscles and weakness in the neck and upper back.

All of that contributes to pain. Here are some simple exercises and stretches that you should do every hour when you’re sitting at your desk working on your computer.

Wrists and hands

Your mouse hand is susceptible to the pain and soreness of a repetitive strain injury.

To prevent that and to make your hands feel better, try the great massage and stretch exercises in this YouTube video.

Office Cardio

If you don’t mind getting a little sweaty at your desk, or if you have a private space where you can retreat for a few minutes, there are great apps and mini-workout routines you can follow to get yourself in better shape in just a few minutes a day, anywhere.

Here’s a great one for abs, and here’s a cardio chair routine.

Take a Break

Why not just be up front about it and ask for an exercise break?

People take coffee breaks, bathroom breaks, some still take smoke breaks, and in one company, employees can even take a weed break.

So why not take 15 to 30 minutes for fitness?

Companies that incorporate physical activity breaks into their employees’ schedules can see an improvement in the way people feel, and even in reduction of stress and conflicts among employees and their supervisors.

Related Article: Leading by Example: Can Managers Reduce Stress in the Office?

Get Sneaky

Do your Kegels. This one might seem like it’s just for the ladies, but men can do Kegel exercises, too.

A Kegel is a simple exercise meant to strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor in order to improve bladder control and sexual health.

“To do Kegel exercises, squeeze the muscles in your pelvic floor that help stop the flow or urine,” gynecologist, Dr. Renee Cotter instructs on her blog. “Squeeze the muscles and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10-20 times, 3 times per day.”

You can do these right at your desk, and nobody ever has to know.

Chill Out

You can practice yoga at work for stress relief and stretching, either in an office-run yoga program or right at your desk for a break during your day.

The little book Office Yoga describes great tips and exercises with cute names that suggest when to do them, like “Empty Elevator Stretch” and my personal favorite, the “Late Client Stretch.”  

Plus, the volume is small enough to keep in a drawer or in your bag or purse.

Image Credit: Fizkes / Getty Images
Kim Tracy Prince Member
Kim Tracy Prince is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer covering money, travel, parenting, advice, and other topics for the internet. Her work can be found on,,, Notre Dame Magazine, and elsewhere.