How to Stay Active at a Desk Job

Are you feeling the burn of sitting all day and wondering how to stay in shape at a desk job? This is a common complaint for office workers. One time when I was at the gym, while using the elliptical, I read an article about this. I can’t find the same article online now, but I did find a similar one from Health magazine titled “Is your Desk Job Bad for Your Health?” This got me thinking about how to stay active at a desk job.

The article was about health ailments that can come from that inactivity. Despite spending an hour or two at the gym after work – that won’t make up for the sedentary lifestyle many of us lead during the day. In fact, that lifestyle could put some at a higher risk for Type II diabetes, according to the article. But I have some solutions to this problem.

How to Stay Active at a Desk Job

How to Stay Active at a Desk Job

Sitting at a Desk

Right now my work life ebbs and flows. Some days I’m out and about, other days not so much. Either way, on average, I still spend at least a half to three-quarters of my work day at a desk and behind a computer.

There are some days I find myself restless from sitting. My low back becomes achey. I also notice I’m hunching my shoulders. I strive to work out on my work days – and in general about five days per week. But I don’t always hit the mark. I also try to take at least one walk each day.

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Standing While Working

I’ve also been on the other side of the coin. My first job kept me standing for four to eight hour shifts. When I was walking around my feet became used to it. But if I was standing in one place I also became restless.

When I stood for most of the day I do think I burned more calories, but it was also difficult on my body. I remember having low back aches then and hurting feet and I was much younger at the time. I had these same pains a few years ago when I took a job working retail.

Standing Desk

Standing and Sitting While Working

The best combination, for me personally, is a job that entails a combination of both standing, sitting and walking. But being I’m a writer the reality is most of my day will continue to be spent sitting behind a computer. I try to do my best to figure out how to be active at a desk job.

Because I work from home I do try to mix up my day and movement with tossing in a load of laundry, watering the plants, getting the mail or other small tasks. But when I’m on a hard deadline, or in the zone working, I often find myself glued to my desk. Regardless of what type of job you have if you do any sitting for work or at home, there are some ways you can learn how to be active at a desk job.

Even if you have a job where you are standing, you may find yourself sitting a lot in the evenings or on the weekends. We all have bills to pay, grocery lists to make and other tasks that frequently require sitting. These tips I am about to share are meant to facilitate not only movement during the day but also health.

Each tip is simple and short. Try implementing one, or more, of these tactics and see if they improve your health. If the list is too overwhelming, try making one change at a time. Here are my tips for how to stay in shape at a desk:

• Keep Moving. Get up every 30 to 90 minutes and move. You might even find the break makes you a better worker and keeps blood flowing. It could be a quick walk around the office or a trip to the water cooler. If you work from home, take a break and walk your dog around the block. If you forget to get up you can set a timer on your computer or smart phone to help remind you to get up and move a bit.


• Stay Hydrated. Why not? There is no reason to not be getting your 64 ounces (give or take) while at your desk. I have a glass Lifefactory bottle and have found it to be durable and stylish. Most experts say to try to drink half of your body weight in ounces, per day, to stay hydrated. Add lemon or fresh cut fruit to your water to add flavor, or try kombucha. Another option is to try out various caffeine-free teas to help you stay hydrated.


• Try to Eat Healthy. Pack healthful snacks to eat at work, and do your best to avoid the baked goods and candy office mates tend to bring in, especially around the holidays. Pack your lunch instead of eating out and you will likely eat healthier and save money, too.

If you are frequently hungry, pack a lunch along with a mid-morning snack and perhaps a mid-afternoon snack. It’s always a good idea to combine protein with carbohydrate to help balance blood sugar. If you work from home you have the added benefit of making a fresh, healthy salad for lunch or enjoying some leftovers.

• Take Standing Breaks. Sometimes I have to file papers or make phone calls. I stand up and burn a few more calories when I do these activities. Some people also use a standing desk. I have tried this and found my feet hurt if I stood for too long (see above). I found that adding a pad under my feet helps.

I also prefer to alternate sitting with standing throughout the day. Another idea is to sit on an exercise ball, which I found did help me move a bit more and is good for stretching. Experiment with standing breaks to see if they make you feel better. Some people sit on the exercise ball itself or you can purchase a “chair” on wheels that holds the ball.

Exercise Ball

• Stretch Frequently. During those breaks throughout the day I will try to stretch. I notice my hamstrings and hip flexors become especially tight while sitting. I also sometimes try to massage my shoulders and neck area where I find I tense up. There are many guides online that offer stretching tips for office workers in particular. If you have room for it, have a yoga mat set up so you can easily take a stretching break. There are also stretches you can do while standing.

• Park Far Away. Get some extra steps in by parking far away from your office door. I practice this same tactic when I run errands. If you drive to off-site meetings for work, do the same upon arrival. By parking far away, I also have noticed an added bonus, I receive fewer of those pesky door dings from other drivers! Another idea is to take the stairs instead of the elevator at your office.

• Invest in a Step Counter. Consider purchasing a smart watch or pedometer to help you meet your daily activity goal while working at a desk. While these devices can become pricey, there are also plenty of affordable options these day. I purchased a simple step counting watch for this purpose. My daily goal is 10,000 steps.

Desk Job Fitness

How to Stay Active at a Desk Job

In Summary

Sitting at a desk for work does not have to be a detriment to your health. While it’s true that a lot has changed in our society and many workers find themselves using a desk and computer in order to do their jobs – there are still ways to learn how to stay active at a desk job.

Even if you have been sitting at a desk job for many years, these simple tips can help jumpstart your health and put you on a path that includes greater activity, increased movement and mindfulness during the work day. Also don’t forget about leading an active lifestyle outside of the office including hobbies such as golf.

Do you have an office job? How do you stay in shape at your desk job?

6 thoughts on “How to Stay Active at a Desk Job”

  1. Great post, Holly! Super tips for someone like me that has 10 hour shifts at the office. Winter months can be loooong …

  2. Great tips! I have an inbetween job where I have the chance to walk or sit throughout the day! I like the tip about parking father away from your building. If you live close, you could even ride your bicycle to work! :0)

  3. Holly, I can totally relate to this and am currently sitting on my rump. I actually have a stability ball in my office, but it's a little to short for my desk (I was going to use it as my chair). I would love a treadmill desk$$$! 🙂

  4. My old job also did a pedometer challenge and let us take one 15 minute walking break per day. We could also sit on exercise balls to help strengthen our core. Now that was a work out!

  5. I have a desk job, but six months ago the implemented a pedometer challenge, so now all of us are going crazy to try to get steps in. It's nice, because the office can't really frown on you taking quick walk breaks during the day if they came up with the challenge!

  6. I don't have a job where I sit at my desk a whole lot, but I enjoyed your tips. I especially think your tip #2 to drink more water will help with tip #1 to take little trips . . . to the bathroom.
    A similar topic research report was published about 2 months ago stating that just 3 hours of sitting once one got home (i.e. in front of the computer blogging UGGG or watching tv) increased one's chance of heart attack and type 2 diabetes by 47% – scary!
    Great post!


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