man in a suit stretching his leg

Sitting for hours during the day has been compared to smoking as a health risk, and is now associated with an increased risk of diabetes, obesity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and death from heart disease.

Though exercising an hour a day can reduce the risk of obesity and heart disease, studies indicate that it may not be enough to offset the dangers of so many hours spent sitting. It's time to change our mindset about how we go about our business day, and learn to get our bodies moving even when we may feel chained to the desk.

Major Benefits Through Minor Movements
Dr. James Levine, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has been studying human activity and inactivity for years. He's found that even a small movement like leaning down to tie your shoes takes more energy than sitting still, and that combining a bunch of minor movements like these throughout the day can reap major benefits in terms of health.

The simplest way to move your body while at work is to get up and walk away from your desk--to go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, meet with a colleague, etc.--you can incorporate additional movements. Give these quick, alternative exercises and stretches a try:

  • Stand up. Talking on the phone? Stand up. Reading over a paper or a bunch of figures? Get up on your feet. Just the simple act of standing uses up more calories than sitting.
  • March in place. If you have some privacy, run in place for one-to-two minutes. You can also try hopping on one foot or both.
  • Lift your legs. While sitting, lift one leg off the chair, extend it straight out, hold for five seconds, then lower your foot until your heel is just barely off the floor and hold for five-to-ten seconds. Switch to the other leg. Repeat for five-to-ten minutes.
  • Do body lifts. Make sure your chair is stable, then place both hands on the arms and slowly lift yourself off the seat. Lower back down but stop short of resting on the chair, and hold for ten-to-fifteen seconds. Repeat 10-15 times. If the arms of the chair don't feel strong enough, hold onto the sides of the seat.
  • Lift your arms. Sit tall and hold a full water bottle in your left hand. Extend your arm straight out to the side and lift the bottle to shoulder level, then over your head. Relax back down and repeat 10 times, then switch sides.
  • Squeeze your buttocks. Squeeze and release 10-20 times once every other hour.
  • Contract your belly. Sitting tall, draw your belly button into the spine and hold for 10-20 seconds, then relax. Repeat.
  • Stretch your back. Place your hands on the edge of the desk, then push your chair back until your head is between your arms and your gaze is on the floor. Hold 10-15 seconds, pull back up, and repeat.
  • Stretch your neck. Move your ear to your shoulder and hold. Use your hand to gently pull your head toward your shoulder if you want to. Repeat on the other side.
  • Stretch your side. Sit up straight. Keeping your hips square and your back straight, grab the right armrest with both hands and twist until you're looking behind you. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
  • Stretch your hamstrings. Ease your chair back until you can put your heel on your desk. Keeping your back straight, gently move forward until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat three times. Switch to the other side..
  • Stretch your hips. Place one ankle on the other knee so the leg is at a right angle to the floor. Keeping the lower back flat, lean forward until you feel the stretch in the leg and hip. Hold 10-30 seconds.
  • Roll your wrists and ankles. Role your wrists and ankles about once an hour, five times clockwise and then counterclockwise. You can do the same with your shoulders--circle them forward and back.
  • Sit up straight. While at the computer many people tend to hunch their shoulders and thrust their heads forward. To counteract this unhealthy posture, open your arms wide as if you were going to hug someone and pull your shoulders back. Hold for 10-15 seconds and repeat.