girl sitting at desk browsing laptop

The human body wasn’t designed to sit all day, but with the rise of computers and office jobs the average person spends almost 12 hours a day sitting. It’s the 4th leading cause for global mortality due to physical inactivity with 3.2 million people dying a year because of it. Schools are even cutting down on recess and after school programs which is causing things like obesity and a sedentary lifestyle for kids.

Now while sitting all day might be unavoidable because of work or school, there are a few simple movements that you can do to help combat physical inactivity and “sitting disease”.

Exercises in Your Seat

Heel Hold

Heel holds are great for stretching your quad and feet muscles, while encouraging blood flow into the area.

  1. Start by sitting in your seat with your back against the chair and your feet flat against the ground.
  2. Lift the front of your foot up as far as you can while keeping your heel on the ground. Hold this position for 15 – 30 seconds
  3. Repeat in sets of 5 – 8 throughout the day

Toe Hold

Similar to heel holds, toe holds will stretch out your quad and feet muscles while sending blood flow to your legs.

  1. Start by sitting in your your chair with your back against the backside of the chair and your feet flat against the ground.
  2. Lift the back of your foot up as for as you can while keep your toes on the ground. Hold this position for 15 – 30 seconds.
  3. Repeat 5 – 8 times throughout the day

Ankle rotations

Ankle rotations turns are another great and simple in seat exercise to combat leg restlessness, blood clotting and bloating, while encouraging lower body blood flow.

  1. Start by sitting in your sit with your back against your chair. If you can, clear out any items beneath your desk in front of you.
  2. Keep one foot flat on the ground and stretch the other leg as far and as high as you can under your desk.
  3. Now twist your extended foot as far as you can to the left then to the right. Repeat this circular motion for 15 – 30 seconds.
  4. Switch legs and repeat the above exercise.
  5. Repeat this set 3 – 5 times throughout your day for maximum effectiveness

Leg Lifts

Use leg lifts to activate both your core and legs while sitting in your seat.

  1. Start by sitting with your hands on the arm rest, back against the back of the seat and feet flat on the ground.
  2. With your legs together slowly lift them up (while still bent) towards your chest as far up as your can.
  3. Pause at the top of the movement for 1 second, then move your legs back down to the ground.
  4. Repeat 5 – 10 times to complete one set. Shoot for 3 – 5 sets a few times during your flight.

Seat Dips

Seated dips are a more advanced and involved movement, but they’re a great way to build strength and get your blood flowing throughout your day.

  1. Start by placing both hands on either arm rest or on either side of your seat. Keep you back straight and feet touching the ground
  2. With your elbows as close to your body as possible, push down with your hands against the armrests lifting your body into the air. If this move is difficult lightly use the toe end of one of your feet for assistance
  3. Come back down into your seat to complete the movement

Desk Pulls

If you have a rolling chair, you can strengthen your upper body with desk pulls.

  1. Start by sitting in your chair with your back against the chair. Grip the edge of your desk in front of you with your hands shoulder width apart. Your thumb should be on the top of your desk and your hands under your desk.
  2. Slightly lift your feet off the ground and push yourself and your chair away from your desk.
  3. With your fight still off the ground, pull/roll yourself as close to your desk as possible.
  4. Repeat 5 – 10 times per set and do this movement 3 – 5 times a day.

Office Shoulder Press

Things around any office building or desk can be used as a weight. Reams of paper, a heavy duty stapler or a binder full of reports are great resistance training weights. Press these items by taking to in either hand or one item in both hands and pressing them up above your head, then back down until your elbows are at shoulder length.


Whether you’re sitting or standing, contractions can be a discreet way to activate your muscles. Pick any muscle group and flex (tense up) them as hard as you can and hold this flex for 15 – 30 seconds. Relax your muscles then repeat 3 – 5 times. Popular muscle groups for contractions are abs, glutes, or legs.

Other tips

Drinking Water

Drinking tons of water throughout the day is a great hack to force yourself to get up and walk to the bathroom. The more water you drink, the more you’ll have to go and the more exercise you’ll get walking to and from the bathroom.

Take the stairs

If you’re working in a place that has stairs, opt for this option over the elevator. Stairs are a great high intensity workout that provides both cardio and strengthening benefits. If you’re in a building that’s 5 – 10 floors up, take the elevator to 2 – 5 floors (depending on your comfort level) below your floor and take the stairs from there.

Bottom Line

It’s completely unhealthy for humans to sit all day. Many of us go from the bed to the car to a chair and back. Doing a few simple exercises are your desk throughout the day can make a huge impact in your life. You’ll see energy, physique and overall healthy benefits if you can consistently incorporate a few simple movements into your day.

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