Sit All Day? Here Are Simple Office Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk
Learn about simple, physical therapist recommended exercises you can do at your desk to counteract sitting for long periods.
The average adult spends about 6.5 hours a day sitting — nearly half the day. One reason: They’re stuck working at a desk. As anyone with back or neck pain knows, sitting for long periods can make your whole body feel achy and stiff and exacerbate pre-existing joint or muscle pain. It’s also associated with a long list of chronic health conditions: obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and even elevated risk of some forms of cancer. But luckily, there’s a simple antidote. Research shows that simply moving more throughout the day can reduce these risks and help your body feel energized instead of achy.
We acknowledge that it can be hard to find time in your busy day for movement. One easy and efficient way to move more is to introduce little bursts of activity while at your desk, says Caitlin Shaw, PT, DPT, a Hinge Health physical therapist. It might not sound like much, but it can reap big benefits. In fact, the exercise equivalent of walking five minutes every half hour can offset some of the most harmful effects of sitting, according to a 2023 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Here, learn more about the benefits of moving during your workday and get simple exercises you can do at your desk — even during hectic days and in cramped office spaces.
Our Hinge Health Experts
Caitlin Shaw, PT, DPT
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Benefits of Doing Desk Exercises
Want to pump up your work performance? Move more during the workday. Yeah, we know it’s not always easy to dash off to the gym or head out for a power walk during your lunch hour, which is why little bursts of activity at your desk during the day can be so important, says Dr. Shaw. Here are some of the top benefits of exercise while sitting at a desk:
Helps your heart. A 2020 study found that short bouts of exercise several times a day lowers blood pressure and heart rate.
Boosts your productivity. Research shows that employees who squeeze in a workout during their workday are more productive, manage their time better, and experience more job satisfaction.
Enhances mood. “Exercise releases brain chemicals called endorphins, which make us feel happier,” says Dr. Shaw. This is one reason why workers who exercise during the day say they’re less stressed than those who don’t.
Lowers pain levels. Endorphins also help blunt the effects of pain. Many people with conditions that contribute to chronic pain (like arthritis) may find it challenging to do longer workouts. Short bursts of activity may provide the health and pain-relieving benefits they need, notes Dr. Shaw.
Boosts brain function. People who exercise vigorously for just under 10 minutes a day have better memory and cognition skills, according to a 2023 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Best Exercises to Do at Your Desk
Chair Exercises to Do at Work
If you’re new to exercising at your desk, the following isometric exercises — contracting a specific muscle or group of muscles — may be a good starting place. These not only stretch and strengthen muscles, but they also provide some aerobic benefits, too. “They improve your body’s blood flow as you do them, which will make you feel more alert,” says Dr. Shaw. “They’re also great because they’re discreet. If you work in an office environment, you may not want to draw attention to your exercise habits.”
Here are some of the best desk exercises that our Hinge Health physical therapists recommend. These all help to improve the range of motion and reduce joint stiffness as well as aches and pains from sitting at your desk. Try to do three sets of 10-15 reps each.
The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.
Desk Cardio: Is It Possible?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, plus two sessions of strength training. That’s a lot! But it’s a major reason “desk cardio” can be so helpful. A 2019 review published in the journal Sports Medicine found that these short sweat sessions are as effective as longer workouts. Plus, they can also boost physical strength and endurance, according to a 2022 review published in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.
If you have a private enough office — or you work from home — you can consider desk exercise equipment, suggests Dr. Shaw. This includes bike desks (stationary bikes which have a desktop instead of handlebars), treadmill desks, and under-desk bikes and ellipticals. But these can be expensive, and you may not want your coworkers to see you break a sweat while you’re on a conference call. In that case, try this mini workout recommended by Dr. Shaw instead. You can do all of these moves at once, or you can break them up into little “exercise snacks” every hour or so throughout your workday. Do 10-15 reps of each desk exercise.
Seated jumping jacks
High knee standing marches
Shadow boxing (do this far enough away from your computer screen, of course!)
Pretend jump rope
Ideas for Leaders: Work Fitness Challenges
Promoting workplace fitness isn’t just for employees. Managers can help their workers stay healthy and reduce the risk of health problems from being sedentary. Research shows that workplace health programs can cut down on absenteeism, healthcare costs, and even disability claims. One good way to do this is to have work fitness challenges. “They’re great because they take away any stigma if people feel uncomfortable working out at their desk,” says Dr. Shaw. They also encourage team camaraderie that may last even after the challenge is finished. Some ideas for a work fitness challenge include:
Walking challenge. People can earn rewards if they walk a certain number of steps every day or over a set period of time.
Daily habit challenge. These challenges can involve different goals or criteria, like only taking the stairs at work or going on walks during lunch breaks.
Team fitness challenge. These can foster a sense of community by setting large goals for the group (e.g. “walk 5,000 miles”) and keeping track of the results on a whiteboard.
Class attendance challenge. Challenge workers to attend a set number of group fitness classes over a period of time.
Holiday challenges. Set a physical activity challenge during the holidays to help keep people motivated through November and December.
Plank challenge. Challenge employees to perform a plank for a set amount of time each day. Then increase that time by five seconds each day until you reach a specific goal. This works as a team challenge, too.
Water bottle challenge. Set a goal for everyone to drink a certain amount of water daily. “This can indirectly help people move more because every time an employee has to fill up their water bottle, they have to walk back over to the water cooler,” says Dr. Shaw.
PT Tip: Ditch Your Desk Chair
Instead of your desk chair, try using an exercise ball. “It challenges your core while you sit,” says Dr. Shaw. Note: It can be challenging to sit on an exercise ball for long stretches of time, so consider keeping a ball beside your chair and swapping them in and out throughout the day.
How Hinge Health Can Help You
If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.
The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.
Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.
See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program
Hinge Health is available to over 1,600 companies and benefit plans!
Yang, L., Cao, C., Kantor, E. D., Nguyen, L. H., Zheng, X., Park, Y., Giovannucci, E. L., Matthews, C. E., Colditz, G. A., & Cao, Y. (2019). Trends in Sedentary Behavior Among the US Population, 2001-2016. JAMA, 321(16), 1587–1597. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.3636
Daneshmandi, H., Choobineh, A., Ghaem, H., & Karimi, M. (2017). Adverse Effects of Prolonged Sitting Behavior on the General Health of Office Workers. Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 7(2), 69–75. doi:10.15280/jlm.2017.7.2.69
Duran, A. T., Friel, C. P., Serafini, M. A., Ensari, I., Cheung, Y. K., & Diaz, K. M. (2023). Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting to Improve Cardiometabolic Risk: Dose-Response Analysis of a Randomized Cross-Over Trial. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 10.1249/MSS.0000000000003109. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000003109
Magutah, K., Thairu, K., & Patel, N. (2020). Effect of short moderate intensity exercise bouts on cardiovascular function and maximal oxygen consumption in sedentary older adults. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 6(1), e000672. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000672
Stress and Exercise. (2014). American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/exercise
Tom Arild Torstensen, Håvard Østerås, Riccardo Lo Martire, Georg Mørtvedt Rugelbak, Grooten, A., & Äng, B. O. (2023). High- Versus Low-Dose Exercise Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 176(2), 154–165. doi:10.7326/m22-2348
Mitchell, J. J., Blodgett, J. M., Chastin, S. F., Jefferis, B. J., Wannamethee, S. G., & Hamer, M. (2023). Exploring the associations of daily movement behaviours and mid-life cognition: a compositional analysis of the 1970 British Cohort Study. Journal of Epidemiological Community Health, 77(3), 189–195. doi:10.1136/jech-2022-219829
No Joke: Your Desk Job Promotes ‘Dead Butt’ Syndrome. (2020, August). Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/no-joke-your-desk-job-promotes-dead-butt-syndrome/
Murphy, M. H., Lahart, I., Carlin, A., & Murtagh, E. (2019). The Effects of Continuous Compared to Accumulated Exercise on Health: A Meta-Analytic Review. Sports Medicine, 49(10), 1585–1607. doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01145-2
Islam, H., Gibala, M. J., & Little, J. P. (2021). Exercise Snacks. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 50(1), 31–37. doi:10.1249/jes.0000000000000275
Workplace health programs can impact health care costs. (2015, December 4). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/model/control-costs/index.html