Suggestions to stay healthy, even at your office desk

Published 5:11 pm Friday, January 13, 2023

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Some days at work, I get too caught up in writing or reading the news that I forget how long I’ve been sitting at my desk. One moment it’ll be 9 a.m. and the next, it’ll somehow be almost lunchtime.

As a result, my back will start getting achy and my legs will get really stiff. My solution to that is usually going for a short walk outside (weather permitting).

But I recently read an article from NPR that shared easy, short exercises that can also help with that specific problem. And I thought it might be good to share them too, because I’m sure I’m not the only one who sits too long behind my desk every day.

The tips in the article came from the “DeskFit” guide created by the NASA Headquarters Fitness Center. (Yes, that NASA. The one that sends people into space! Even the people exploring the universe need a break every now and then too.) So, in an effort to promote better wellness, here are several important notes and suggestions from the DeskFit guide:

Firstly, before getting into the specifics of exercises and stretching, they provided several broad tips for staying healthy at work (or while working from home). Those include taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes, walking and using the stairs whenever possible, alternate sitting and standing throughout the day, schedule time to exercise daily as a priority, break up physical activity into smaller durations of time, incorporate microbreaks of 1-2 minutes every 30-60 minutes, and eat nutritious meals and healthy snacks.

These are pretty easy suggestions, in my opinion. I know that sometimes when I’m working, it’s not only my body that needs a break, but my mind as well. Getting up, even just a few minutes, can let your brain rest long enough so that it’ll be back on track when you return to work. Personally, when I get stumped on something I’m working on, stepping away for a few minutes is all I need to spark a better idea to get me over the hurdle. And following a schedule, like suggested, helps to keep me from skipping over a needed break.

If you aren’t convinced yet that you shouldn’t sit for too long, the guide also points out ways that excessive sitting can affect your body. Over time, these bad habits can lead to blood clots, spinal pressure, high blood pressure, obesity, and more. I certainly don’t want to add any of those things to my life if I can avoid them.

So what can you do? The guide suggests a number of simple exercises and stretches to do throughout the day whenever it’s most convenient, and it’s recommended to alternate which days you do them. For example, do the exercises on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the stretches on Tuesday and Thursday. Then switch that for the next week, and the next week, and so on.

Here are some of the suggested exercises (along with some of my own commentary):

Seated Marches: sit on the chair with your back straight. Bend you legs at the knees and “run” on the spot with short, quick steps as fast as you can for 15-20 seconds.

I think this one might be the easiest one of all, especially for people like me who already bounce their legs when they’re feeling antsy. Basically, you’re still sitting down but marching your feet in place. And it only lasts 20 seconds, tops! It’s so simple, it won’t even feel like exercise really.

Standing Calf Raises: stand up behind your chair and hold on for support. Raise your heels off the floor until you are standing on your toes. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor. Perform 12-15 times.

Plenty of exercises are confusing to me, but I like that this one is super straightforward. It just gets you to stand on your toes for a bit. Reminds me of my younger days taking ballet classes!

This exercise is also similar to the Standing Leg Curl: stand behind your chair and hold onto it for support. Keep your body straight and firm. Start by raising one foot up to your backside and then lowering it down. Repeat the process for 10-15 times, and then switch to the other leg and repeat.

Seated Torso Twists: sit on the edge of the chair, bend your legs at the knees, and lean slightly back without rounding your spine. Bend your arms so your elbows are level with the bottom of your ribcage. Pull your navel in and twist slowly to the left. Inhale and twist to the right. Repeat the exercise 20 times total.

The description for this sounds a little bit complicated, but I think that’s just to ensure you’re exercising the correct muscles and aren’t moving in a way that’ll cause more harm than good. But I like this one because you don’t even need to get out of your chair to do it, which is good if you’re waiting for an important phone call!

And here are some of the suggested stretches (along with my own commentary again):

Seated Shoulder Roll: raise both shoulders up toward your ears, then slowly roll them backward. Repeat, rolling forward. Sit tall and do not allow your upper back to round. Complete this two times in both directions.

To me, this sounds like a good stretch when you’re too busy to stop what you’re working on for very long. These shoulder rolls will loosen you up before you hop back into business.

Seated Lean Stretch: sit up tall and raise your arm. Bend toward your left side reaching with your right hand overhead and hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat to other side for two sets.

This is one that I’ve been doing even before I read through this guide. It always feels good to be able to move your arms around when you’ve been typing at a keyboard for too long.

Seated Ankle Roll: while seated, extend one leg until your foot is off the floor and slowly rotate your foot clockwise 10 times. With the same foot, repeat the exercise in a counterclockwise motion. Switch to the other foot and repeat.

These stretches really cover all parts of your body, from your head down to your toes.

I don’t have enough space to cover every exercise and stretch in the DeskFit guide, so I definitely recommend looking it up yourself. I even saved it to my phone so I could refer to it in the future.

So if you drop in the News Herald office and happen to catch me doing a few exercises and stretches, don’t mind me. I’m just trying to stay healthy!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.