Creating Movement Throughout The Day

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

Technology is making our day-to-day tasks easier and more efficient but what is it doing to our health? Research states that a sedentary lifestyle is one of the world’s leading causes of death with prolonged sitting increasing the risk for several chronic diseases, causing stiff joints and weakened muscles, and decreasing overall productivity. While a regular exercise routine is known to manage good health, it is also important to look at your physical activity over the course of the entire day. Every little bit of movement throughout the day is going to help improve your health and ultimately your quality of life.

Get in the groove

Moving for at least 5 minutes every hour, or for 10 minutes every 2 hours, may improve mood, productivity, posture, flexibility, and functional capacity. It may also decrease joint stiffness and risk for diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Try adding intentional movement throughout the day like adding a walk after lunch, using the stairs instead of the elevator, having a stand-up meeting with co-workers, doing house chores during T.V. commercials, or adding a stretch routine before bed. Ready, set, move!

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Is your 45-minute HIIT class or 5 mile run enough to compensate for the 8 or more hours of sitting during the day? It might not be. Developing research suggests that a regular exercise routine is only part of maintaining good health, but it’s most important to find movement throughout the day. As modern-day technology and sedentary jobs increase our sitting time more and more, we find ourselves moving much less than we did even just ten years ago. While having your workout classes scheduled before work and meeting friends for a run on the weekends does benefit our health, it’s what we do with the other 23 hours of the day where we are not exercising that seriously impacts our well-being. According to the World Health Organization, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading causes of death globally…and we are sitting more than ever.

How much exactly?

Americans sit an average of 9.3 hours a day between desk jobs, watching T.V., surfing the internet, and being on the phone. These prolonged phases of sitting are now thought to actually reverse the positive effects of any fitness routine. The American Council of Exercise illustrates that sitting for extended periods of time has several negative consequences including:

  • Joint stiffening
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Poor posture
  • Weakening of heart and lungs
  • Decreased ability to burn fat
  • Increased risk of chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers
  • Increased fatigue

How exactly does sitting do all of this?

Our body is made up of over 600 muscles and 37 trillion cells that are all meant to MOVE. Sitting not only decreases the body’s energy output (a.k.a. the amount of calories it burns), but the sitting position slows down this cell movement and makes it more difficult for your body’s cells to do their job – from the simplest task of breathing to even walking up the stairs. For example, the time spent sitting at your desk either at work or while studying puts many of your muscles in a shortened position. The longer these muscles go without lengthening, the stiffer they get making them feel tight and limiting their range of motion. For instance, the common lower back complaint is often caused due to sitting when the hip muscles tighten and cause pressure on the action of the spine. And that’s just the beginning.

The good news is…

The good news is that we can easily find ways to move throughout the day that won’t break the bank or take time away from your normal schedule of productivity. Although low to high-intensity exercise is preferred on most days of the week, not all of us can fit in a long sweat session every day. That’s okay!

A 5 to 10-minute break from your desk or the couch to wake-up the body can be as beneficial (if not more) as an hour-long workout.

A study by the American Council of Exercise showed that moving for as little as 5 minutes every hour can significantly decrease triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and increase HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). If you’re not able to move that often, similar benefits are found moving for 10 minutes every 2 hours. Other amazing benefits of consistent movement throughout the day include:

  • Decreased inflammation
  • Decreased joint pain
  • Increased mobility and functional capacity
  • Decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved posture, balance, and coordination
  • Help with weight management
  • Improved mood and productivity

Yes, you read that correctly

Improved mood and productivity! Referred to as ‘meditation in motion’ by the Mayo Clinic, exercise will increase your energy levels during the day, will improve your mood, and may help you remain calm in more stressful situations. When you find that your concentration is diminishing, move your body and mind toward success by keeping those brain juices flowing all day long.

Some really, really easy ideas to create movement throughout the day

So, let’s look at how we can maximize our movement throughout the day to reap these amazing benefits. Unfortunately, with today’s modern technology removing many of our basic activities of daily living, we have to put in extra effort to get movement back into our lives, but it’s easier than you think. Whether it’s two, five, or ten minutes, the gesture doesn’t have to be strenuous.

It may be as simple as taking a moment to stand up from your desk or wash the dishes.

The possibilities for taking a break from sitting are endless! See how many of these you can sneak into your typical day and, remember, these breaks still apply outside of your normal workout routine.

  • Have stand-up meetings with co-workers or classmates. Yes, literally stand up in a group circle rather than sitting at a table.
  • Take your phone calls on a walk or simply stand at your desk while talking.
  • Walk down the hall to talk to a co-worker rather than calling or messaging.
  • Skip the elevator or escalator and take the stairs.
  • Use the restroom at the other end of the office or take the stairs to use the restroom on a different floor.
  • Go for a light walk before or after lunch.
  • Take a stretch break at your desk to do some basic stretches. Focus on major muscle groups that affect posture (chest, upper and lower back, shoulders, core).
  • Do some light bodyweight exercises at your desk or use a compact resistance band easily stored in your desk drawer.
  • Invest in a stand-up desk or under the desk pedaler for during the workday.
  • Park further away from the entrance at work or when running errands.

Other ideas outside work

  • Do calf raises while brushing your teeth or waiting in line at the store.
  • Do squats, push-ups, or abdominal exercises while watching T.V. Add some weights for extra resistance.
  • Plan house chores during T.V. commercials like folding laundry, vacuuming, or sweeping.
  • Avoid drive-throughs and meal deliveries. Go inside or make the effort to pick-up your order.
  • Drink more water to increase bathroom breaks (extra hydration, too!).
  • Plan to garden or mow the lawn right after work for some fresh air with Mother Nature.
  • Catch up on emails while casually walking on the treadmill.
  • Do a 5 minute stretching routine first thing when you wake up and/or before you go to bed.
  • Ride a stationary bike while reading. Or better yet, ride your bike to work!
  • Take a step outside for some deep breathing exercises. Fresh air and the sunshine’s vitamin D will perk you right up.

Ready to move?

Let’s move forward by consciously planning out our physical activity from sunrise to sunset. What do you do when you first wake up? How do you get to and from work? Do you get up from your desk often? How can you decrease sitting time at home? Every little bit of movement throughout the day is going to help improve your health and ultimately your quality of life, so be intentional with your efforts and let’s get moving!

Actionable Steps


Set a timer

Set a timer for reminders to take breaks every 60-120 minutes. This can be done with your phone, computer, or an activity tracker.


Invest in an Activity Tracker

Some options include watches by FitBit, Garmin, Under Armour, Nike, Samsung and Apple. Many of these watches track number of steps per day and how long you’ve been sitting. Most of the latest versions have the ability to set reminders to get up and move. Compare the pros and cons of the highest rated watches before purchasing to be sure it works with your personalized goals.


Be prepared

Add variety to your movement with some tools. Having a few types of exercise equipment around can help inspire you to move more. Check with your employer to see if they provide a fitness subsidy to help purchase the right tools for your health. Try an adjustable height desk, under the desk pedaler, resistance band set, or grip strengthener. Be sure to put any movement accessories in plain sight to prompt you to actually use them.


Keep sneakers nearby

Keep comfortable shoes at your desk so you can quickly switch into a safe movement mode for standing up at your desk or going for a walk.


Check out these routines

Dig deeper with these On-The-Job Fitness recommendations from ACE, this fifteen day office yoga routine from Yoga Journal, and a stretch routine by Fitness Blender.


Get the office (or your classmates or family members) on board!

Accountability from support groups is key. Educate those around you on why taking breaks for movement throughout the day will help everyone excel and feel better. Those who move together achieve more together!

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
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