Healthy lifestyle trends are pumping up the workplace. With an increasing number of health experts declaring that “sitting is the new smoking,” the gym is no longer the only area to get active. In fact, even those who exercise often might want to consider how they function during work hours.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that when you sit all day, your telomeres — the tiny caps on the end of DNA strands — get shorter. The shorter telomeres get, the faster the body begins to age and decay. But there are steps you can take to change things and move in the right direction.

Even still, many workers don’t have access to standing desks or the kind of office culture — like, say, Reebok’s — where headstands and push-ups occur regularly and employees are encouraged to work out any time of day. If you want to avoid sitting slumped over your desk or running a frenetic lap around the office, there are ways to keep your muscles moving without getting up. Check out these seven exercises you can discreetly do while sitting to stretch, tone, and decompress:

1. Hands-on strengthening

Benefits: Hand and finger stretching have multiple benefits, including improved joint function and flexibility. This simple exercise can strengthen your grip and fight hand fatigue.


  1. Make a fist (with or without a stress ball).
  2. Squeeze tightly and hold for 3-5 seconds.
  3. Release and stretch fingers wide.
  4. Repeat 5-10 times with each hand.

2. The namaste

Benefits: Many yoga poses can serve as isometric exercises that you can practice with little visible movement. The namaste gesture activates your arm muscles and stretches your wrists.


  1. Sit up tall in your chair with feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bring both your palms together in front of your chest.
  3. Push both your hands together until you feel your arm muscles contract.
  4. Hold for 20 seconds.

3. Shoulder shrug

Benefits: Many of us carry tension in our neck and shoulders. This isometric exercise activates your arm muscles while pushing your shoulders back down into a more natural position.


  1. Sit up tall in your chair.
  2. Grab each side of the seat of your chair.
  3. While seated, pull as if you’re trying to lift the seat of your chair, engaging your arm muscles.
  4. Pull for 6-10 seconds.
  5. Release and repeat 4-6 times.

4. The desk chair swish

Benefits: Bad posture while sitting or standing does your core muscles a disservice. Thisab toning exercise is an effective lower back stretch. All you need is a desk chair that swivels.


  1. While sitting up straight, let your feet hover over the floor.
  2. Grab the edge of your desk with both hands.
  3. Using only your core muscles, swivel your chair from side to side.
  4. Counting one left-to-right, swivel as one rep, repeat 10-15 times.

5. The abs-olute squeeze

Benefits: You can do this ab exercise while walking or sitting. Breathe deeply to engage your core muscles and relieve stress.


  1. Take a deep breath through your nose.
  2. As you inhale, tighten the abdominal muscles.
  3. Squeeze and hold for 5-10 seconds.
  4. Release and repeat for 12-15 times.

6. Crossed leg lifts

Benefits: Sitting all day can actually deteriorate your muscles, causing loss of strength and flexibility. This simple exercise engages your calf muscles, helping to keep you moving even while you’re sitting.


  1. Sit up straight and cross one leg over the other.
  2. Extend your legs while crossed.
  3. Try to raise them as high as possible.
  4. To add resistance, press down with the top leg.
  5. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  6. Repeat with the opposite leg

7. Hip flexes

Benefits: Sitting all day puts a lot of strain on the hips, making your muscles tight and inflexible. This exercise helps to stretch them.


  1. While sitting up straight, lift your right foot a few inches off of the ground.
  2. Bend your knee at 90 degrees.
  3. Hold this position while staying seated for as long as you can.
  4. Repeat with your left leg.

Whether you prefer to sit or stand at your desk, there are plenty of ways to stay active and healthy while you work. Try mixing up your habits by taking the stairs, improving your posture, and even tapping your feet under your desk — which can burn up to 350 calories a day. These small adjustments are easy ways to feel more lively during work.

Antonio Gonzalez Antonio Gonzalez, a contributing author on Gusto, provides actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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