Aerobic Exercise At Your Desk October 2, 2008
Topics: Fitness

Home > Articles > 

We all know that most office dwellers aren't getting enough exercise. Fitness experts advise a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise five times a week. But that's hard to do if you are desk-bound eight or more hours a day.

Even lunch exercise is sometimes challenging because of outside temperatures or gas costing too much to drive to an air-conditioned mall. Taking the stairs may not work in single story buildings or even two-story buildings like many here in Central Texas. That's because one flight isn't enough and if you run up and down the same stairs repeatedly, everybody thinks you are crazy. So choose chair exercise instead.

"Human bodies are made to move, not to hunch over a keyboard all day, " says Senior Physical Therapist Gladys Cruz Nicholls. "Getting up at regular intervals and stretching helps, but sometimes that's not enough."

Chair exercise was popularized by Mary Ann Wilson on her PBS TV show Sit and Be Fit. Her approach is targeted to seniors and people with physical disabilities who want to improve not only cardiovascular fitness, but also flexibility and balance. Over the years, many other fitness consultants and therapists have expanded on the theme.

"Anything that gets your heart pumping helps maintain fitness, improve circulation and lower blood pressure," says Gladys. "Using similar techniques, you can get a quick ten-minute workout sitting at your desk whenever you can take a break."

She cautions that chair exercise is not the best way to train for a marathon. But if your marathon this week takes place at your keyboard, this approach can help you get valuable minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise that add up.

"The most important thing is to move - generally with large muscle groups," adds Gladys. "Begin slowly and work into your routine to give your body a chance to warm up."

The following recommendations are only suggestions. There are numerous other chair-based routines that also will work. So slide your chair back from your keyboard, sit up straight and exercise. If your office- or cubical-mates think you are peculiar, explain what you are doing and perhaps some of them will join you.

Below is a list of the steps and directions for how to perform each exercise along with Gladys' comments about what other body parts benefit besides your heart.

Step One - Pump

What it does: "Stretches your arms and upper back after a long morning at the computer."

How to do it:

  • Pump each of your arms overhead five times.
  • Pump both arms overhead five time.
  • Repeat for four sets.
  • Use a timer. This should take about one minute.

Step Two - Punch

What it does: "Allows you to stretch the muscles of the upper back."

How to do it:

  • Punch the air across your body 20 times with each arm.
  • Repeat for two sets.
  • This should take about one minute.
  • Punching has an added advantage - you can work out frustrations with an imaginary foe.

Step Three - Jog

What it does: "If done correctly, you can start toning your abdominals. Be careful to use the abdominals correctly for support."

How to do it:

  • Point and flex your toes a few times to limber up your legs.
  • Jog in place while seated in your chair.
  • It's harder than you think, so pace yourself.
  • If you need more challenge, lift your knees higher.
  • Use a timer. Jog for two minutes.

Step Four - Bike

What it does: "Another good abdominal trainer. This exercise also works your legs and ankles."

How to do it:

  • Lift both feet off the floor and bicycle in place.
  • This works better without shoes, so slip them off if you can.
  • Pace yourself on this exercise.
  • If you need more challenge, lift both knees higher.
  • Use a timer. Bicycle for two minutes.

Step Five - Jump

What it does: "Gets your blood rushing and heart rate going. Works your upper back, arms and legs."

How to do it:

  • Cross your arms across your chest and cross extended legs about calf level.
  • To jump, swing arms outward at the same time as you extend legs outward.
  • Jump back to original position.
  • If you need more challenge, lift your arms above your head.
  • You will get even more challenge if you lift your arms above your head and your feet off the floor.
  • Use a timer. Jump for two minutes.

Steps Six & Seven - Repeat Punch and Pump

What it does: "Repeating the initial exercises in reverse order allows you to cool down."

How to do it:

  • Repeat Steps Two & One
  • Use a timer.

"Keep in mind that like all exercise, you may need to work up to the full 10 minute routine. Even though you never leave your chair, this is harder than most people think," says Gladys.

Time Yourself

If you are sitting at your desk and don't have a stopwatch, you can find one at The stopwatch puts large, easy-to-read numbers right on the screen. Just click to start and begin your exercise routine. Using a timer helps you reach ten full minutes of exercise.

Add Music

Music often makes exercise more enjoyable and helps you pace yourself. Grab a set of ear buds and plug into a music source. No one will be the wiser as you exercise to a beat.

Gladys Cruz Nicholls,
PT, Certified Pilates Instructor

Gladys is a Senior Physical Therapist with the Seton Family of Hospitals.

Watch us on YouTube