How to move more at your desk job

Don't just sit (or stand) there.png

In Which Desk is the Best?, we talked about why sitting (or standing) still isn't ideal. Lack of physical activity is responsible for an enormous amount of pain and suffering.

And still, we sit. (Or we stand.) All. Day. Long. 

But wait, you might be thinking, I work out every day! I'm an active person. 

Brace yourself, for this next bit may be hard to hear.

The opposite of being sedentary is not exercising. 

It is possible to be both an exerciser and a sedentary person. It's actually quite easy to be both. Real talk: Exercise is great. I love exercise. Even people who hate exercise often feel fantastic after they've done it. It's just that we've been led to believe exercise is all the movement we need but it's not. People who exercise and then sit still for long periods are still sedentary, and they still have all the same risk factors as sedentary people. 

The opposite of being sedentary is making frequent, whole-body movements. 

What on earth is that? It doesn't roll off the tongue, I admit. But if you imagine what a hunter-gatherer's daily activity might be like, that would get you on the right path to imagining frequent, whole-body movement. That means you move frequently (no two-hour bouts of sitting still staring at a screen), and during the course of the day, you move all your parts in varying ways.  

Commit to move more

Now, I'm not suggesting the only way to get healthy is to be a hunter-gatherer, nor am I suggesting that the fix for a sedentary culture is easy to remedy. But I do firmly believe that 1) every little bit of movement you can do counts, and 2) small changes over time lead to big, meaningful changes. Set your intention to move more and try to let it be an invitation to adventure, not yet another thing to stress over. 

What would it take for you to move more throughout the day? Can you imagine feeling better, less stiff, more energetic, when you move more? What potential is there for improving your health by becoming a frequent whole-body mover?  

(For a knock-your-socks-off discussion about movement and exercise and why the distinction matters so much, check out Katy Bowman's amazing book, Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement.)

OK, lay it on me. How do I move more at my desk job? 

Here's a plan you can follow in three easy steps, regardless of what kind of desk you have.  p.s. If you work as a construction worker or kindergarten teacher, you may be wondering how you can move less at work. I'll have to get back to you on that.  

First, save the list below.

Refer to it each time you take a movement break. Try a different movement on each break. See how many different movements you can do each day. 

Second, set your timer and MOVE.

Aim to take a movement break every half hour. If you can't swing that frequency, commit to as often as you can. Every 45 minutes? Every hour? What amount of time is both challenging and realistic for you?

If you miss a break, no biggie. Get back on schedule and keep on truckin'.

Spend at least one minute on each movement break, up to as long as you can get away with. Don't worry about your productivity. You'll feel refreshed and get right back into your groove after you pump some fresh oxygen up to your brain by moving your body. If your boss or coworkers complain, send them my way and I'll explain what's up. 

Third, repeat tomorrow and the next day, ad infinitum. 

Keep varying the movements. Write in your own movements. Keep experimenting. You're becoming a mover! If you listen, you'll hear your body saying "Thaaaaaaank yoooooou!!!! I needed that!" 

20 Easy Ways to Move More at Your Desk Job

  1. Sitting, cross one ankle over the opposite knee and hold. Repeat on other side. 
  2. Sitting, twist your torso (without using arms to push you into the twist) to one side then the other.
  3. Sit on the floor and stand up. (Do this 4 or 5 times.) 
  4. Focus on breathing into your rib cage in 3 dimensions (up-down, side-to-side, top-bottom) for 10 breaths. 
  5. Raise your arms over your head. Try not to let your shoulders creep up toward your ears.
  6. Ramp your head. (video link
  7. Lower your head toward your right ear and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Don't let your shoulder creep up toward your ear.
  8. Hang your head, chin toward your chest, and relax there for 60 seconds. 
  9. Stretch one arm over your chest, hooking your other arm around it just above the elbow. Hold. Repeat on other side. 
  10. Bend your arm, putting your hand on the nape of your neck, and point your elbow up toward the sky. Hold. Repeat on other side. 
  11. Hinge at your hips and lean forward into a forward bend. Let your tailbone curl toward the sky, let your pubic bone sink toward the floor, and feel the pull in the backs of your legs. 
  12. Do a set of calf raises.
  13. Do circles with your ankles. 
  14. Do 5 high steps on each leg. 
  15. Go for a walk (to the water cooler or around the block).
  16. Spread out your toes as wide as they can go.
  17. Try lifting each toe individually. Use your fingers to help if you need to. 
  18. Interlace your fingers and press your palms toward the wall in front of you, stretching your fingers. 
  19. Drop into a lunge on one knee, repeat on the other side. If your knees are sensitive, do a standing lunge instead.  
  20. Gaze out a window into the distance. Eye muscles need to move, too!

There you have it! You're moving more.

Twenty ways to move your body without any special equipment. Think about this: If you took 8 movement breaks at 5 minutes each today, you'd have 40 minutes of movement under your belt! You'd have moved many of your parts, reduced your risk of cardiovascular disease, improved your circulation, revved up your immune system function, and probably felt much better than if you hadn't moved at all. Here's to moving more! 

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