Desk-based exercises

Do you sit at a desk all day? Staying healthy at work is easier than you might think. Try building the following desk-based exercises into your working day

Current UK exercise guidelines recommend adults aged 19-64 take at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity each week (aiming to be active every day).

These simple stretches can help ease the aches and pains associated with sitting for long periods, but it’s important to combine them with regular physical activity. Moving more throughout the day can help keep your weight at a healthy level and limit your chances of developing a number of serious illnesses.

The chest stretch


Working on a keyboard with arms and hands outstretched can lead to rounded shoulders and a slumped posture. Your chest muscles can become tight and the muscles between your shoulder blades might be underused.

The following stretch will help correct this muscle imbalance:

  • Sit forward from the back of your chair
  • With your thumbs pointing towards the ceiling, open your arms out to the side until you feel a stretch in the front of your chest. Ensure your shoulders are back and down
  • Aim to switch on the muscles between your shoulder blades by gently drawing them together. You should not feel pain or tingling in your arms
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat three times.

The leg stretch


Spending too much time sitting can make the muscles on the front of your thighs (quadriceps) tight. Over time, this can leave you at greater risk of injury to your knees and lower back.

Try the following to stretch out your quads:

  • Stand in front of your desk and place your left hand on it for balance
  • Standing on your left leg, raise your right heel towards your right buttock
  • Grab hold of your right foot with your right hand. You should feel a stretch along the front of your thigh
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, repeat three times and then switch legs.

The sit stretch


Long periods of sitting with your knees and hips flexed can cause the muscles at the back of your legs (hamstrings) to shorten and become tight.

Address this problem with the following stretch:

  • Perch on the edge of your seat and stretch your right leg out in front of you
  • Rest your heel on the floor with your foot pointing up
  • Lean forward slightly from your hips and look straight ahead. You should feel a gentle stretch but no pain along the back of your right leg
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, repeat three times and then swap legs. 

Perfect posture


Good posture is important for keeping your back, neck and other joints healthy.

Try the following tips to improve your posture – especially if slouching at your desk has become a habit.

  • Sit with your bottom right at the back of your seat and rest against the back of your chair for support
  • Rest your forearms on your desk with your elbows at a 90o angle
  • Relax your shoulders, don’t allow them to rise or round
  • Make sure both of your feet are flat on the floor, and your knees are level with your hips
  • Adjust your chair and use a footstool or other support if needed
  • Imagine there is a piece of string coming through your body and out of the top of your head to the ceiling. This will prevent slumping and help keep you upright.

Wall press


Press-ups are a great way to build some fitness training into your workday. All you need is a flat surface – and it doesn’t have to be the office floor:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Stretch out your arms and rest your palms against the wall at shoulder-height and slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
  • Take a couple of tiny steps back, engage your tummy muscles, and slowly bend your arms at the elbows. Keep your back and neck straight and look at the wall in front of you
  • Lower yourself until you are a couple of inches away from the wall, then push yourself back up to your starting position
  • Make sure you lead with your chest so your arms are doing the work. Do not allow your back to arch
  • Aim for three sets of ten press-ups. To make this exercise more challenging, move your legs further back.