9 Sneaky Ways to Move More All Day Long

Desk life is not the best life. If quarantine is getting the best of your bod (and your health), it’s time to get up and move.

by Sarah Ellis Health Writer

By now, you’ve probably heard that posting your butt up in a chair for nine hours straight isn’t the best thing for your health. Yet, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. worker spends 39% of their workday sitting (that number jumps to 90% if you’re a software engineer!).

The thing is, sitting for extended periods has been linked to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even an early death. One 2018 study in AANS Neurosurgeon found that sitting all day can change parts of your brain associated with memory formation. A new June 2020 study in JAMA Oncology associates sedentary behavior with cancer mortality: even 30 minutes of movement when you otherwise would have been sitting can lead to a 31% decrease in likelihood of death from cancer.

One easy way to change your habits is to incorporate more casual movement throughout your day. This doesn’t have to mean scheduling in a traditional workout (although if you want to go for a run, do it!). “If we consider movement as something that happens throughout the day, we can be more intentional in getting more steps in, being more active, or creating a more specific goal for ourselves,” says Anthony J. Wall, director of Strategic Partnerships for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. Here are some ideas for how to move more all day long.

1. Take regular breaks.

The easiest way to incorporate movement into your desk job life is to take regular breaks to get up from your chair. Donna Arnett, PhD, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health in Lexington and former president of the American Heart Association, suggests switching up activities for a brain boost and fun respite.

“Walk around the block, do a few jumping jacks or lunges between meetings, or put on some music for a dance break,” she says. Try setting an alarm for every 60 to 90 minutes you’ve worked, to remind you to stretch your legs.

2. Switch rooms between meetings.

Another strategy is to switch up your home office (if you’re WFH during this quarantine spell). Arnett suggests moving between rooms throughout the day, which may also help you escape your screaming kids if they’re stuck at home with you.

Designate one indoor space as your “meeting room,” one as your “project room,” one as your “brainstorming room”—you get the picture. P.S. Research shows that going for walks boosts creative brain power in real time, so you may just come up with your next brilliant idea while on the move.

3. Take your calls standing up.

This hack will change your life: Arnett recommends taking phone calls standing up if you’re able to do so. This way, you can pace around the house, go for a quick walk, or even just stay standing for a few minutes to get your blood flowing.

4. Make your neighborhood walks (slightly) longer.

Love getting fresh air in the early morning or during your lunch break? Rather than one quick jaunt around the block, make it two or even three, if you can swing it. You’ll get double or triple the steps in, plus more time to enjoy the sunshine and breeze.

5. Park farther away when running errands.

Making a grocery run after work? Rather than circling around waiting for the best possible parking space, make a commitment to park a little farther away. Wall calls this “incidental activity”—an activity that is not planned or structured but that helps you move your body a bit more.

You may have to walk a little longer to get into the store, but you’re also help counteract the sitting you did on the drive over.

6. Don’t try to carry everything at once.

Once you’ve made it back from that grocery trip, don’t carry all the bags inside in one fell swoop. Instead, Wall suggests making multiple trips back and forth to the car. “The key to getting simple movement throughout the day is thinking about opportunities when you can move more, as opposed to our natural inclination of finding ways to move less,” he suggests.

When you’re setting the table for dinner, walk back and forth to set the silverware rather than carrying it all at one time. Even those tiny adjustments can add up to many more steps over time!

7. Engage your family (or furry friend) with active play.

If you live with a significant other or children, they can be great accountability buddies to get you off the couch and moving more. “If you have kids, choose some active toys for them to have on hand like jump ropes or hula hoops,” Arnett says.

If you’re living alone, this might be the excuse you’ve been waiting for to finally get a dog. “Having a pet is a great way to stay active,” she notes. “Taking them on walks or playing fetch inside are good for both you and your pet.” When your pup expects a walk three times per day, you’re obligated to prioritize that healthy routine, rain or shine.

8. Use your Netflix time creatively.

So, you want to binge the new season of Queer Eye. What if we told you that you can also use that time to fit a workout in? “Instead of sitting on the couch to watch your favorite show, use that time to add in some abdominal exercises or push-ups,” Arnett says.

If you have a treadmill or stationary bike, move your legs while watching an episode or two. If you prefer to keep it chill, you can use this time to stretch your tight muscles. 2018 research in the Journal of Physiology found that daily muscle stretching enhances blood flow even for folks who cannot complete regular exercise.

9. Change your mindset around movement.

Really, the best thing you can do is to think differently about moving throughout the day. While many people are constantly looking for ways to move less–How close can I park to the store? Should I take the shortcut across my yard to get to the mailbox?–Wall suggests challenging yourself to do more activity every day. “Every opportunity probably has a way that we can move more, [but] as human beings our default mode is to try to move less,” he says.

And even though an extra lap around the kitchen won’t change your caloric expenditure much, it does contribute to a more energized state of mind. “Even a few minutes of activity changes our mental state after we've been sitting for long periods,” Wall says. It can increase your motivation and boost your mood instantly–no caffeine needed.

“Moving more and sitting less is the first step in becoming more active in general,” Wall urges. “The lifestyle benefits that we get from being more active and moving more continue throughout our life.” He’s not joking–movement can literally help you live longer. Okay, who’s ready for a quick dance break?

  • Data on Sitting/Standing Jobs: Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017.) “Standing or walking versus sitting on the job in 2016.” bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/standing-or-walking-versus-sitting-on-the-job-in-2016.htm

  • Sitting and Chronic Disease: Annals of Internal Medicine. (2015.) “Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults.”

  • Sitting and Cognitive Decline: AANS Neurosurgeon. (2018.) “Sitting Is Bad for Your Brain – Not Just Your Metabolism or Heart.”

  • Sitting and Cancer Mortality: JAMA Oncology. (2020.) “Association of Sedentary Behavior With Cancer Mortality in Middle-aged and Older US Adults.”

  • Walking and Creativity: Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. (2014.) “Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking.”

  • Stretching and Blood Flow: Journal of Physiology. (2018.) “Daily Muscle Stretching Enhances Blood Flow, Endothelial Function, Capillarity, Vascular Volume and Connectivity in Aged Skeletal Muscle.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29623692/

  • Exercise and Mental Health: The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. (2006.) “Exercise for Mental Health.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/

Sarah Ellis
Meet Our Writer
Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a wellness and culture writer who covers everything from contraceptive access to chronic health conditions to fitness trends. She is originally from Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in NYC. She has written for Elite Daily, Greatist, mindbodygreen and others. When she’s not writing, Sarah loves distance running, vegan food, and getting the most out of her library card.