5 Simple Exercises to Improve Circulation and Health (That You Can Do at Your Desk)

Bridgette Austin by Bridgette Austin on July 15, 2014
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Most of us are aware that poor posture and lack of exercise can lead to a wide range of physical ailments. As recently as 2012, a medical journal stated that professionals with sitting jobs were twice as likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than those with standing jobs. Moreover, a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise stated that individuals who sit for most of the day were 54% more likely to die from heart attacks. Even more alarming, the individuals who participated in the study still faced the same amount of risk, regardless of factors such as health status, activity levels and weight.

While some companies are experimenting with standup workstations, office workers confined to traditional desks may find it challenging to engage in physical activity that doesn’t interrupt their work. To combat the harmful effects of sitting for prolonged periods of time at work, the following are a few exercises you can do at your desk to improve posture, circulation and your chances for living a long, healthy life.

1. Seated Spinal Twist

A restorative pose often used in yoga, the seated spinal twist is beneficial for releasing tension that collects in your back due to sitting for long periods of time. If you’re sitting at your desk, place both feet flat on the floor and elongate your spine from the top of your head down to your tailbone.

Once you’ve stabilized your spine, inhale and cross your right leg over your left. While exhaling, twist your body from your lower stomach towards your crossed right leg. Repeat the exercise on both sides to get maximum benefits from the pose.

2. Forward Bend

Forward bending at your desk can inject fresh oxygen into your brain; it also creates space in the rear section of the spinal disks that fit between each of your spine’s vertebrae. Start your forward bend by positioning your feet on the floor so they’re wider than hip-width apart (or at least wide enough so that your shoulders can fit in between your knees). Next, bend forward so that your shoulders go between your knees and your head hangs toward the floor.

If you’re not very flexible or have lower-back issues, try leaning forward while resting your forearms on your knees. You can still benefit from the pose by stretching your spine into a partial forward bend.

3. Stability Ball

The benefits of replacing your office chair with a stability or exercise ball have been championed by physicians and corporations alike. According to a 2010New York Times article, balancing your weight on an exercise ball forces you to balance your body, which can increase your core (i.e. abdominal muscles) and improve your body’s posture. Stability balls can be purchased from a number of outlets between $15 and $100-plus, depending on its diameter, materials used and overall quality.

Although research from the article states that sitting on an exercise ball burns approximately four more calories per hour than sitting in a chair, some experts point to a lack of evidence proving that stability balls actually improve posture. Nevertheless, exercise balls trump chairs when it comes to burning more energy and producing more muscle activity.

4. Exercise for Your Hands and Wrists 

If you type for long periods of time and begin to feel pain, try this hand exercise to ensure good blood flow from your palms to your fingertips. Ensuring good blood flow to the hand can help prevent the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome, which afflicted 3.1% of working adults aged 18 to 64 in 2012.

5. Get Up and Walk Around

As basic as this may seem, simply getting up from your desk, standing during a telephone call or taking a short walk around the office can help reverse the ill effects of being inactive and immobile throughout the day. Dr. Adam Reynolds, co-founder and chiropractor at Catalyst Health, advises inHuffington Post Canada, “A few times an hour, make it a point to get up and move. Research shows that muscles begin to shorten after they are in the same position for more than 20 minutes.”

Make it a goal to stand up and take a break every 20 minutes. Opening your chest and stretching out your arms open up your chest and back, preventing slumping posture and chronic neck pains. Additionally, try the following:

  • Wear a pedometer, which is an electronic device that counts the number of steps you take each day. Try walking at least 10,000 steps per day to boost your metabolism, correct your posture and improve your overall mood.
  • Use thirst as an excuse to get up and move around. Make frequent trips to the office kitchen or water fountain to hydrate. You’ll also move closer to meeting the daily requirement of drinking at least eight cups of water per day.
  • You may receive a few double-takes and some bewildered glances, but try using your office chair to do squats in order to work your core muscles and improve your posture. Try doing five sets of squats at 30-second intervals each.
  • If breaking out in squats at your chair or performing push-ups on the office floor feels too much outside your comfort zone, consider wall push-ups. Find a flat wall, and push off the surface, doing five sets at 30-second intervals.

You might also consider bringing small weights to work with while you’re at your desk, or you can bring some resistance equipment to help stay active while you’re stuck at the office.

Pointers for Posture

Proper posture isn’t just for presentations and social events. Maintaining good posture at your desk is just as important as when you’re standing, and it’s one more way to enhance your overall health. Here are a few pointers to help you stay vigilant when faced with fatigue: 

  • Slouching: If you find yourself leaning over your keyboard, take a second to sit back in your chair and stretch out your back. Try to keep your upper back pinned to the chair in order to prevent future back problems.
  • Leaning on armrests: Just like slouching, leaning to one side for a long period of time can be a killer on your back. Again, if you notice you tend to lean to one side as you work, take the time to sit upright and stretch out.
  • Mind where you’re looking: Constantly craning your neck to view a monitor or something off to the side can contribute to neck pains. Be sure to turn your body and chair completely when you look at or address something to the side.
  • Footrests: Stretching out your legs and keeping them above the ground can go a long way to improve circulation and prevent strain. Plus, it’s a lot more comfortable.

“Desk jockeys” get a bad rep from other workers who perceive desk work as easy on the body. But as veterans and studies will tell you, sitting for hours at a time is in no way good for your health. Pay attention to the way you sit at work, and take the time to walk around and stretch out your limbs before the ill effects of poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle come back to haunt you.

Bridgette Austin

Based out of New York City, Bridgette is a technology writer in the higher education sector. Throughout her career, she has written a variety of business publications for organizations ranging from Big Four accounting firms and environmental consultancies, to software and college textbook companies.

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