We all know staying active is the key to good health, but it’s hard to be on the move when your job involves sitting in front of a computer for hours on end.
A study last year revealed that the majority (81%) of UK office workers spend between four to nine hours sat at a desk every day.
Almost half (45%) said they sit at their desk for six to nine hours, and the same amount feel that their employers don’t provide them with the right equipment to feel comfortable at their desks.
This is particularly worrying as another study has shown that prolonged periods of inactivity can lead to early death.
Now, I don’t know about you but I don’t think my job is worth dying for. Sorry, employers.
We’re advised to get up and move around every half hour but that’s easier said than done when you’ve got loads to do and your boss is watching you like a hawk.
So, what if using fitness equipment at your desk is the key to staying healthy at work?
Forget the gimmick of treadmill desks – we gave discreet, affordable equipment a go to see if it could keep us mobile while we’re glued to our screens.
Wobble balance cushion, Mirafit, £6.95
This is used to improve balance, stability and agility during workouts, but is also handy to use as a posture cushion for your desk chair.
‘Sitting on a balance cushion at work can be a good option to improve core stability and encourage optimal posture,’ says high performance and productivity consultant, Abigail Ireland.
‘However, it’s important to build up to longer periods of time slowly and not use the cushion for excessively long durations, as this may cause more damage than good.
‘Surprisingly, your body can become very skilled at balancing adequately with a poor posture so it’s important to be mindful of this!’
My core is pretty weak compared to the rest of my body so I really like this as a reminder to sit up straight and engage my core. It gets a bit uncomfortable to sit on after a while, partly due to the little spikes in it, so it’s definitely one to use intermittently.
The spikes are also rather unpleasant to sit on with bare skin, so bear this in mind if you’re wearing shorter clothing on the bottom half.
Loop resistance band set, Smug, £15
This set of five bands is great for doing discreet glute exercises at your desk.
‘Our glutes are generally under-active and underdeveloped thanks to excessive sitting, but with bands you can help change that,’ explains Wendy Goldthorp, women’s health coach and trainer at The FIT Movement Limited.
‘Looped bands placed below the knees are ideal for abduction exercises – where you open and close your knees against the band, keeping feet still – to help build glute strength.’
She advises choosing a band resistance that challenges you, otherwise you won’t see results.
This set has five different strengths so you can switch it up, and comes in a cute canvas bag that makes it easy to stash in your desk drawer.
I find doing abduction exercises while I work helps me sit up straight, and aids concentration.
While you won’t win Rear of the Year just from using them at your desk, they’re definitely worth investing in as an addition to your regular workout routine.
Weighted 1lb bangles, Bala, $49 (£40) for two
These chic as hell wrist weight bangles come in a variety of colours and can also be used on your ankles, so I popped them on while working, for some chair exercises.
Try seated leg raises while sitting at your desk – sit up straight with legs at 90 degree angles, both feet on the floor. Engage your core, lift one leg up and slowly lower it. Repeat on the other side.
The weights add resistance, so use strength and not momentum to lift your legs, otherwise you render the exercise pointless.
You can of course, do standing exercises using the weights on your wrists and ankles, but unless you work for one of those ‘I’m not a regular employer, I’m a cool employer’ companies that gives you free food and has a slide in the atrium, that will probably be frowned upon.
Walking with ankle weights can also be beneficial as it forces your body to work harder and adapt to the extra weight. However a few trips to the water cooler and the loo in a day probably won’t make much difference, let’s be real.
Obviously you will look like a total wally if you wear these at work and they’re not hidden by trousers or a long skirt.
‘Ankle weights can be used as an effective, additional piece of kit to enhance your strength training and provide additional resistance for working glutes and legs,’ Wendy tells Metro.co.uk.
‘If you’re using these in a work environment, you’ll want to ensure that you’re in flat shoes, ideally trainers – sorry no heels.
‘However, simply wearing them at your desk won’t provide any noticeable benefit. You need to be moving around the office on a regular basis for any gains, or standing up from behind your desk to perform lower body exercises.
‘I recommend against wearing them all day as ankle weights change your natural walking gait, and there is a risk of muscle strain or injury to ankle or knee joints.’
To be honest, I don’t find wearing these at work that beneficial, so I’ll give them a miss in the office, but I’ll definitely be adding them to my fitness routine to add resistance in pilates workouts.
Swiss ball, Decathlon, £5.99
Gym balls aren’t just reserved for studio workouts – you can try using one instead of your desk chair.
‘Chairs don’t require any muscle activation – instead they do the work to support you which results in decreased core strength,’ says Wendy.
‘A gym ball means your muscles need to constantly micro adjust to maintain balance.
‘They can also be used for lower back and pelvis mobilisation while seated. Maintaining good posture is key to avoid discomfort.
‘However, you may currently lack the necessary core strength to support your upper body and this may cause issues.
‘Opinions differ whether swapping out your chair for a gym ball is better for you.’
If you want to give it a go, make sure you choose one that’s the right height – your foot should be flat on the floor with your legs at a 90 degree angle.
I find using a gym ball as a chair quite distracting due to all the wobbling – I much prefer the more discreet stability cushion. Having said this, you can definitely feel your core switching on so if you have the ability to wobble and type, give it a go.
However, if you work in an office, your colleagues probably won’t appreciate this rolling all over the place when you nip to make a cup of tea.
Opti mini bike, Argos, £39.99
‘Using an under desk mini bike is a great way to incorporate more movement into an otherwise sedentary lifestyle,’ says Abigail.
‘It’s important to watch your posture or excessive use could cause more damage than good. Cycling is low impact so suitable for most people, and this mini bike is great for those with knee / other injuries that prevent more vigorous activity.
‘The legs also contain the body’s biggest muscles, so movement is perfect for getting the heart rate up and getting the blood flowing.
‘For a deskbound individual, this machine does provide an alternative to being completely sedentary, but I would never see this as a substitute for a proper workout when you can really invest 100% effort and work up a sweat.’
The machine has a display that tells you time, distance and calories burned – it took me 70 seconds to burn 10 calories pedalling full pelt at a medium resistance.
I definitely feel the burn in my legs when I use this for a short period on a high resistance.
This bike would be perfect for stashing under your desk if only it was quieter – it’s just a bit too noisy to use in a silent office, but you can probably get away with it if you work somewhere that plays music.
While it’s a bit distracting to be pedalling and typing at the same time, it’s a good thing to do while reading or making a phone call.
I’ve also found it’s a really good stress reliever when I can’t concentrate – I take a quick break and pedal as fast as I can.
I work from home so have been using it while on the gym ball, which definitely isn’t recommended from a health and safety perspective (I’m not liable if you hurt yourself, punks) but it’s a pretty fun way to take a break and burn off some steam.
Strong Grip hand exerciser, Fitness Mad, £5.49 each
These specially formulated thermo-plastic eggs come in three different strengths and can be used in one hand while you scroll or think, and help strengthen grip, wrists and forearms.
‘Studies also show that grip strength is positively correlated to heart health and, although this is more likely to be a result of overall fitness, it’s a useful indicator to know about,’ says Abigail.
‘It also has the added benefits of a stress ball, so it’s great for releasing physical and mental tension that builds up during the day.’
I don’t usually give much thought to my grip so this is quite a handy thing to have on my desk to use absentmindedly while I concentrate on reading, as I probably wouldn’t bother otherwise.
Like Abigail says, it really is great for trying to relieve anxiety throughout the day, coupled with breathing exercises, and these can be done discreetly at your desk.
With all of these pieces of equipment, the key is using them as a bonus to your regular exercise routine
‘I’m a big believer in being entirely focused on the task at hand instead of multitasking,’ says Abigail.
‘This extends to exercise too. If you want to work out, it’s best when you put your mind, body and soul fully into it. Give it 100%.
‘Unitasking also means you can complete an activity more quickly than if you try to multitask, therefore freeing up time to invest more intentionally in a proper exercise regime.
‘For example, using a treadmill desk whilst trying to concentrate on writing an important document means you do neither particularly well.
‘The mind-muscle connection is powerful, and the more attention you pay to the muscles you are moving, the more effectively and accurately you will use them.’
You’re not going to get fit by doing a few resistance exercises at your desk, but you will likely notice an increase in energy and concentration if you make an effort to move your body more – however you decide to do it.
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