How to Keep Moving While You Work

How to Keep Moving While You Work

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Fact checked by Shannon Sparks


Nearly all of us sit too much. Unless you work as a preschool teacher, fitness instructor, or construction worker, you probably fall into that category. 

But a few simple lifestyle changes can prod you to increase your movement, decreasing the risks associated with remaining stationary all day.

“Whenever I have patients who come into clinic who live a sedentary lifestyle, one of the biggest challenges they have is [finding] the motivation to move,” says Thomas Schmittdiel, MD, a family and sports medicine fellow at Ascension Resurrection Family Medicine. 

For many, weight is a motivator. However, a sedentary lifestyle involves more than weight gain. Fitness helps ameliorate all kinds of medical ailments. Pregnant women who exercise regularly have significantly decreased risks of gestational diabetes and postpartum depression, Schmittdiel says. In older adults, exercise reduces cognitive decline and fall risk, a significant finding because falls are one of the leading causes of nursing home admissions and loss of independence.

“Both endurance training and resistance training are highly recommended for all adults, but any additional movement throughout the day can help,” Schmittdiel says. 

Sitting Alternatives:

1. Opt for a standing desk. If you sit at a desk all day, check in with your hips. Prolonged periods of sitting result in shortened hip flexors, leading to hip joint complications. If your work set-up doesn’t have an ergonomically designed chair, sitting for long periods also can create back or posture problems, resulting in pain or other issues. 

Bringing movement into the workday doesn’t have to be complicated. One way is to utilize a standing desk. You can even place a small walking track pad underneath it to incorporate exercise by moving your legs, rather than simply standing. 

2.  Schedule breaks. Use your calendar to increase your movement. Scheduling time for standing breaks or 5-minute walks around your work space are great reminders to get up out of your chair and move, to get your blood flowing through your muscles. Setting a phone alarm to remind yourself to take a quick standing break every hour also can positively influence productivity.

“There are so many health benefits to exercise besides weight loss,” Schmittdiel says. “Adults should have 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise per week but any movement or activity is beneficial for overall health.”

3.  Embrace walking meetings. If you are able to work in-person or switch a video call to a phone call, consider a walking meeting to take your meeting on the go. When you eat lunch, take a few minutes to walk outside,  even if you work from home or brought lunch with you to the office.

4.  Try chair exercises. Think of it as yoga at your desk. As you’re working, or for a set amount of time throughout the day, get in some chair exercises. These could be leg stretches or marches, chair squats, arm raises, or trunk twists. All these movements will help your blood flow and improve your mobility.

And lots of little movements may pay off big time. “Lack of movement day to day can exacerbate conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and cognitive decline,” Schmittdiel says. “Any way that you can, get moving!”

Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2024 print issue.