8 Simple Ways to Exercise at the Office

woman exercising at her desk

This may not come as a shock to you, but human beings were not designed to sit in small cubicles and stare at computer screens for 8 hours a day. Sedentary behaviour is bad for your health, causing back pain and increasing your chances of developing any number of potential conditions. As much as we’d all love to avoid this and be happy and active in our jobs, unfortunately, it isn’t always practical.  

Of course, you can combat this lack of workplace activity by purchasing a gym membership, but it can be hard to motivate yourself; after a long day at work, most of us just want to crash on the sofa and binge watch Stranger Things. So what about keeping fit and active during the working day? It’s a pipe dream, right?

Well, actually it isn’t. Whether you want to keep fit or lose weight, achieving your goals during the 9-5 is entirely possible. You don’t need any specialist equipment either – just a little bit of motivation and ingenuity. And possibly strong deodorant. Check out these ideas to find out how.

1. 'Deskercise'

Annoying name aside, exercising at your desk – or ‘deskercising’ – can be very beneficial. While you may get a few strange looks (particularly when your boss walks in to find you leaning diagonally over your desk like a corporate Michael Jackson), stretching your proverbial legs will help to keep you in shape and tone up those key muscle groups.

You can do most of the exercises while standing too, or with the aid of your chair and desk. If you’re feeling particularly active, you can even substitute office props for kettlebells – plant pots are particularly handy for those overhead raises.

So whether you’re looking to sculpt your guns, tighten those abs, or tone that booty, don’t hesitate to improvise on the job. Just make sure you’re still able to type afterwards.

2. Work for a progressive organisation

If you’re reading this in China, chances are you’re wondering what the fuss is all about. This is because callisthenics (basic aerobic exercises) have been a compulsory part of the working day there since 1951, with the government wary of the health consequences associated with a sedentary population.

The idea has spread to Japan too, where large companies such as Honda have adopted and developed the concept. Indeed, the idea that productivity is directly linked to the mental and physical health of employees is a central part of the workplace culture and is known as ‘kaizen’.

Following the rapid economic growth of those countries, western companies are now beginning to realise the benefits of paying workers to exercise too. This has been backed up by research from the American College of Sports Medicine, where studies showed that employee performance was boosted by as much as 15 per cent after a 30 to 60 minute workout.

Major organisations such as Google and Facebook are capitalising on this, installing on-site gyms at their offices, while the idea of temporarily downing tools for a spin circuit or a Tabata class is becoming the norm for many progressive employers.

3. Start your day earlier

Going for a run or hitting the gym before work might mean getting up an hour earlier, but you’ll definitely feel the benefits. In fact, it is scientifically proven that exercise is most effective in the morning, with the metabolic effects resulting in a higher number of calories being burnt throughout the rest of the day.

Exercise also releases endorphins that make you feel good about yourself, so you’ll have that glowing sense of achievement before you’ve even set foot in the office. This is a great foundation on which to build the rest of your day, and you will see the benefits not just in your health but in your work too.

4. Arrange exercise groups

One of the best things about exercising with a friend or colleague is that you can help each other stick to your routine, especially when one of you is tempted to give up. When you exercise with a group of colleagues, you’re even less likely to give up.

Many companies already promote schemes like this, but if yours doesn’t, set one up. The key is to try and get management on board, which makes it easier to secure a workout space and hire class instructors. Alternatively, many private gyms offer corporate and group discounts; your company may be able to take advantage of one of these.

Aside from the health benefits, it could help your career too: your proactivity and enthusiasm certainly won’t go against you on your annual appraisal review.

5. Use your lunch break

The easiest form of exercise you can get without stepping foot in a gym is walking. Just by standing up and putting one foot in front of the other, oxygen is pumped around the body giving your muscles a chance to grow and get stronger. And of course, the best part is you it’s free!

During your lunch break, don’t go to the Starbucks around the corner – go to the other one that’s a fifteen-minute walk away. Or instead of eating your sandwiches in the canteen, take them to the park. If your office is in a suitable location, go for a stroll with a colleague and have a gossip, or plug your headphones in and get lost in your surroundings – as long as you’re on the move, it doesn’t matter.

6. Ignore the lift

If you really want a daily challenge, don’t get the lift up to your fifth-floor office – take the stairs instead. Even by doing this a couple of times a day, you will see the benefits. While you might arrive at your cubicle as a sweaty, panting mess the first few times, you’ll soon realise that you can do it without even getting out of breath. You can give yourself an extra challenge by taking two steps at a time if you want, or if your office building is particularly tall, try and walk all the way up to the top.

Additionally, instead of driving or taking the bus to work in the morning, why not cycle? Nobody likes being stuck in traffic jams, and the money you’ll save on petrol or bus/train tickets will very quickly cover the cost of a bicycle. Look at your working day, and ask yourself where you can make things a little bit more physically challenging for yourself.

7. Do things properly

Even though a couple of exercises at your desk might not seem a lot, don’t neglect the importance of stretching before and after. You don’t want to spend the next three days barely able to lift your arms, or have to explain to your boss that you’re going home early because you pulled a hamstring at your desk. It only takes a few minutes to warm yourself up and down, so if you’re going to exercise, you may as well do it properly.

The same goes for nutrition. You don’t have to whip up a protein shake every time you do a few push-ups, and nobody is saying you should have a George Foreman Grill next to your computer, but exercise is going to be irrelevant if you’re first in the queue at Krispy Kreme every day. There are plenty of ways you can adjust your diet and eat more healthily at work, and the benefits will stand you in good stead regardless of your exercise regime.

8. If all else fails…

Of course, if none of this is enough, and being glued to a desk is just simply driving you crazy, you could always mix things up and change office. There are plenty of jobs that require you to be on your feet all day, such as healthcare, teaching and construction; you could even pursue a career where physical fitness is a requisite, such as the police, the fire service or the military.

Or you could even find yourself a role where essentially the only thing you’re paid to do is exercise, and save yourself a lot of trouble. Just don’t come crying back to us when you realise you’d give anything to be sat back at a warm and comfortable desk again…

Are there any other methods you use to keep fit and active in the office? Let us know in the comments below…