The average person in the UK now spends the equivalent of 76 days each year sitting down. So it’s no surprise that around 39% of UK adults don’t meet the activity levels recommended by the NHS.

According to the NHS guidelines we should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, such as walking or cycling, each week. For many of us, a working week of 37, 40, 50 or even 60 hours involves most of that time sitting at a desk. Add in all kinds of travel and commuting and it’s easy to see how we can be spending 7 - 12 hours per day seated.

A sedentary lifestyle poses a threat to our health and reduces our life expectancy. It increases our risk of diseases like cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.

Being sedentary can also impact our mental health. Studies show that people who sit for more than 7 hours a day are more likely to feel depressed.

Doing some exercise for an hour after work will improve your health and fitness, but it doesn’t reduce the amount of time you spend sitting down during the day. We can use exercises to break up the time we spend sitting to help to improve our physical health.

How to be more active

Here are 6 simple tips to help you get more active in the workplace.

1. Get moving and stretching at your desk

When you sit down for a long period your muscles can start to stiffen up. This can contribute to neck and back pain, weakened muscles and poor posture. Sitting down changes the angle of your hip joint which means that your hip muscles can become tight. Your core muscles are also less active when in a seated position.

Make stretching at your desk a habit, even if it’s just for a minute or two.

March on the spot

You can do this standing or even sitting. March on the spot for 1 or 2 minutes (if you’re sitting, make sure your posture is upright and simply march your feet up and down). Try to do this several times a day.

Do desk push-ups   

Work your arms and shoulders by doing push-ups off your desk. Stand up and put both hands on the edge of your desk with your fingers pointing forwards. Then take a big step back with both feet, keeping a straight line from your heels to your head (your body will be at an angle to the floor). Bend your elbows slowly to lower your upper body towards the desk, then slowly push back up. If pushing up from your desk is too difficult, try putting your hands against a wall instead.

Shrug your shoulders

If you spend long periods of time hunched over your computer keyboard, chances are your shoulders will ache or feel tight by the end of the day. Stretch those muscles out throughout the day by shrugging your shoulders as high as you can and holding them there for a few seconds. Release and repeat several times.

Also try rolling your shoulders back as far as they’ll go (you should feel as if they’re almost touching). Hold, then release and repeat. If your neck also tends to feel uncomfortable, do some neck rotations: sit with your head upright then gently turn it from one side to another (try to get your chin past your shoulder).

Squeeze your stomach   

To work out your abdominal muscles while you sit, try to squeeze them tightly for up to a minute at a time. You can do the same exercise with your buttock muscles too. 

Work your fingers

To prevent repetitive strain injuries in your hands and wrists, consider doing a few simple stretches 2 or 3 times during the day:

  • With your arms stretched out in front of you, make a fist with both hands, then make circles in both directions using just your wrists (try to keep your arms as still as possible)
  • Place the back of the fingers of both hands against the edge of your desk, with your wrists bent (your fingers should be together and pointing upwards). Press against the desk with your fingers. Do this a few times, then repeat with your fingers spread apart

2. Get out for a walk at lunchtime

Get away from your desk at lunchtime to improve both your physical and mental health. A walk will get your body moving, raise your heart rate and increase your step count. The average person in the UK only walks 3,000-4,000 steps per day, falling short of the recommended 10,000. Starting with a short lunchtime walk can help to build up your step count.

3. Stand up when making phone calls

Standing uses more muscles than sitting, and as an extra benefit it burns more calories too. Standing can improve your circulation and productivity, and reduce back pain.

4. Take the stairs

If you always use the lift or escalator, switch to using the stairs instead. Taking the stairs will raise your heart rate and help to strengthen your leg muscles.

5. Move every hour

It can be easy to sit in the same place for hours without noticing. Taking a walk around the office will get your joints and muscles moving, and give you a break from your screen. You can go back to your desk with a fresh perspective.

6. Cycle or walk part of your commute

If you take public transport to work, get off one stop earlier and walk the extra distance. Over the course of a week this can add up to a lot of more exercise. If you drive to work, park your car at the furthest end of the car park, so you walk further to the office. Or you could cycle to work to increase your daily exercise and miss the traffic. 

Little actions throughout the day have a cumulative effect on your activity levels. You don’t need to make any drastic changes to start getting active at work. If you add 15 minutes of exercise every day you would increase your activity levels by 1 hour and 45 minutes each week. Small changes can really start to add up.

How CABA can help

Looking for the healthy option? Go to CABA's Your health matters website for everything you need to take care of your physical wellbeing. Eat well with nutrition tips and a cook along video. Move more with easy exercise tips and a personal training video. Learn to rest and relax with a simple yoga video.

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Written by: Motus Training

Motus Training provide specialist personal training, nutrition and lifestyle advice to people looking to improve their health and well-being, build their fitness, restore their energy levels and improve performance in work, life and sport.

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