Deskercise: Staying Fit in a Sedentary Lifestyle

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What are the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle?
How do you overcome the health risks of prolonged sitting?
A useful Deskercise routine
Further reading

In a world dominated by desk jobs, the health implications of a sedentary lifestyle are becoming increasingly clear and concerning. This article explores the scientific evidence outlining the risks tied to extended periods of sitting and presents practical interventions to counteract these adverse effects.  

Young man sitting in office and working on desktop pc. Image Credit: Jacob Lund/

Young man sitting in office and working on desktop pc. Image Credit: Jacob Lund/

What are the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle?

Health complications associated with a sedentary lifestyle have become a major public health concern worldwide because of the ever-increasing prevalence of desk-bound occupations that demand prolonged sitting. Recent surveys indicate that office workers spend, on average, four to nine hours per day sitting at their office desks. This is equivalent to two sedentary months per year.  

Prolonged sitting at the workplace can have a serious health-damaging impact, ranging from body aches and pains to obesity and cardiovascular disease. A new study on postal workers shows that workers involved in desk-bound occupations have larger waist circumference and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than those involved in field activities.

Specifically, the study finds that every additional hour of sitting above five hours is associated with a 2 cm increase in waist circumference and a 0.2% increase in cardiovascular disease risk.

Prolonged sitting is associated with a lower level of energy expenditure than standing or walking. This results in the accumulation of excess fat in the body, especially in the abdomen. Besides causing obesity, this excess fat can increase the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, and high blood cholesterol levels.

A growing pool of recent studies indicates that prolonged sitting for more than eight hours a day without any physical activity is associated with a mortality risk similar to that caused by obesity and smoking. It has also been evidenced that the health risks associated with prolonged sitting can be mitigated by performing 60 to 75 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day.      

Premature death is the most detrimental outcome associated with prolonged sitting or a sedentary lifestyle. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 3.2 million premature deaths occur each year globally due to sedentary lifestyles. Workers who spend long hours sitting at the workplace have a 1.4-times higher risk of premature death after 12 years compared to those who sit for fewer hours at work.

Prolonged sitting can lead to the pooling of blood in the lower legs and feet, causing these areas to be swollen and achy. In worst cases, it can lead to the formation of blood clots in a deep leg vein (deep-vein thrombosis). This condition is potentially dangerous as the clot can travel to the lungs and cause pulmonary embolism.

Prolonged sitting with poor posture can put a significant amount of load on the spinal cord, shoulders, and hips. This can lead to lower back pain and spinal complications. Persistent postural misalignment can result in muscle fatigue, tightening of hip flexors, reduced spine flexibility, weakening of gluteal buttock muscle, as well as weakening of the bones (osteoporosis).

Businessman touches lower back feeling pain sudden ache while get up out of office chair, muscular spasm, strain caused by sedentary lifestyle, prolonged inactivity, sit in incorrect posture concept. Image Credit: fizkes/
Businessman touches lower back feeling pain sudden ache while get up out of office chair, muscular spasm, strain caused by sedentary lifestyle, prolonged inactivity, sit in incorrect posture concept. Image Credit: fizkes/

Prolonged sitting is considered to be an independent contributor to malignancy. Evidence indicates that sitting for more than eight hours a day can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancers, including colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, lung, and pancreas cancers.

How do you overcome the health risks of prolonged sitting?

A large pool of evidence that highlights negative health outcomes of prolonged sitting also points out the fact that even a leisurely movement in between prolonged sitting can lead to better health.

According to the experts’ opinion, moving around every 30 minutes or hour can be beneficial for preventing cardiovascular as well as musculoskeletal problems. Frequent movements throughout the day are more effective in counteracting the negative effects of prolonged sitting than performing moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 120 – 150 minutes a week.

Sitting time at the workplace can be reduced by using a sit-to-stand desk or a treadmill desk. Step-counting devices or smartphone reminder apps are useful for controlling sedentary habits and tracking daily activity. Apart from being active, it is also important to focus on the timing and quality of food intake. Eating a healthy and balanced diet on time is highly effective in preventing weight gain and obesity.

“Deskercise” is a new term that defines exercises that can be performed throughout the workday while working on the desk. A growing pool of evidence reveals that deskercise is a realistic, accessible, and buildable option to counteract the odds of a secondary job. Such exercises are highly effective in relieving stress, boosting energy, increasing flexibility and range of motion, and improving overall productivity.

A useful Deskercise routine

The negative health effects of prolonged sitting can be reduced simply by taking a 30-second break and shaking out the whole body. The shoulder shrug is another useful exercise for relaxing the shoulder, neck, and upper arm muscles.

A shoulder shrug is performed by taking a deep breath and raising the shoulders towards the ears, tensing everything as hard as possible. After holding the posture for five seconds, the shoulders are lowered back down while breathing out. This exercise should be repeated ten times.

Neck stretches are very useful for loosening a stiff neck and ameliorating neck pain. For forward and backward tilt, the chin is tilted down towards the chest and kept in this position for 15 seconds, followed by lifting the head back in position. The next step is to tilt the chin toward the ceiling, hold for 15 seconds, and return to the original position. The entire process should be repeated several times.

For side tilt, the head is tilted toward the right shoulder and held in position for 5 – 10 seconds, followed by returning to the original position. For optimal stretching, the ear should almost touch the shoulder. The same process should be repeated for the left side as well.

Chair squats are good whole-body exercises that strengthen the glutes, legs, and spinal cord to make daily activities easier. The exercise is performed by sitting on the edge of a chair, followed by standing up and sitting back down with the arms straight out in front of the body. This should be repeated 15 times.

Deskercise - Lower Back and Torso Stretches

Chair dips are good for strengthening upper arm and shoulder muscles. The exercise is performed by holding onto the front edge of a chair for both sides. The feet are positioned away from the chair, the legs are kept straight, and the heels are on the floor. The body is lowered until the upper arms are parallel to the floor, followed by pushing up back to the original position. The steps should be repeated ten times.

Chest stretch is useful for reducing symptoms related to a tight chest. It reduces the risk of chest muscle injury. The exercise is performed by interlocking the fingers behind the back, straightening the arms, and puffing the chest out while sitting or standing straight. The position is held for 15 seconds.

Quad stretch is good for increasing body flexibility and reducing back pain and knee pain. The exercise is performed by bending the knee back while standing and grabbing the ankle with one hand, bringing the foot as much as possible, and holding it there for 30 seconds.

Seated crunches are good for strengthening and stabilizing core muscles. While sitting on the edge of a chair and holding it from both sides, the legs are brought off the ground and straightened out, followed by bringing the legs into the body into a crunching position, then straightened out again. The steps should be repeated for 10 – 15 times.


Further Reading


Last Updated: Mar 25, 2024

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.


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