8 Ways to Move More During the Workday

Woman doing exercises at her desk

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Getting enough movement into your week if you have a sedentary job can be very challenging. Research shows that the average person gets a little over 5,000 steps per day, with some reports indicating the average to be as low as 3,000.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get a minimum of 150-minutes of moderate or 75-minutes of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise (or an equivalent combination of the two) as well as 2 days of resistance training that targets every major muscle group each week. If you are only getting 5,000 steps per day, you likely are not reaching those goals.

The Importance of Movement

A large portion of the energy burned through the day comes from a type of activity called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). This type of movement accounts for all non-planned or intentional exercise. It includes any kind of walking, fidgeting, or other calorie-burning activities that are a byproduct of your daily activities.

NEAT helps keep your energy intake and output balanced, which is vital for maintaining a healthy weight. Research shows that NEAT is responsible for 6 to 10% of the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) in sedentary individuals and 50% or greater in those who are very active throughout the day. It is clear that NEAT is a vital component of creating a healthy energy balance.

With sedentary jobs and lifestyles, NEAT is often greatly diminished. Even if you hit the gym a few times per week, you may not be moving enough to keep your weight in a healthy range. A 2018 national survey found that 57% of the responders believed themselves to be overweight.

Forty-five percent of responders thought they gained weight at their current job, and 26% reported a weight gain of more than 10 pounds. A further 11% said they gained more than 20 pounds. Weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle may contribute to health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, heart failure, stroke, some types of cancer, and poorer mental health outcomes.

The good news is that adding more movement into your day can combat these effects, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.

For instance, one study by the American Heart Association monitored 11,000 middle-aged Americans over 6 years. Researchers found that study participants who completed 30 minutes of walking four times per week had a significantly lower risk of heart failure than those who did not.

Regular movement can also improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, improving your mood and helping you feel more balanced.

Ways to Work Movement Into Your Day

Adding more movement into your day doesn’t have to time consuming or difficult. Here are several ways to increase NEAT and planned activity during your workday.

Take Movement Breaks

Setting timers for breaks is a simple and highly effective method for increasing movement. Choose a length of time that you will work, such as 1 hour, and set timers for breaks lasting 5 to 10 minutes.

Getting up to move around, performing light stretches, or going for a walk around the office or your home can help combat the adverse effects of sitting, such as pain, stiffness, and muscular imbalances. It also can help increase your energy expenditure.

One study shows that even short, 3-minute movement breaks when taken every 30 minutes can combat the effects of sitting, including more stable blood sugar levels, reduced “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels, and improved fasting glucose. The blood flow boost that comes from getting out of your seat is the likely cause of these benefits, according to researchers.

Pace the Room

Whenever you have calls at work, try pacing the room instead of staying in your seat. Pacing not only increases your activity levels but may also help increase creativity—a win-win for your employer and your health. 

Set Up a Movement Workstation

If you have the flexibility to switch out your regular desk set-up for a standing or walking workstation, you can increase your movement substantially. To reach 10,000 steps, for example, you only need to walk for about 1 hour and 40 minutes, or up to 2 hours, depending on your stride length and speed. 

Choosing to alternate between sitting and walking for work can be a more manageable alternative. This option is especially beneficial if walking for several hours is too physically challenging for you.

Alternatively, try standing for part of the day. While standing doesn’t burn too many extra calories compared to sitting, they do add up. And there are other benefits, such as a reduced risk of diseases and mortality.

Use Your Lunch Hour Wisely

If you have extra time at lunch, consider heading outdoors for a walk. Walking after your meal can help control blood sugar levels, adding even more significant benefits to your extra activity.

Another reason to walk during your lunch hour is that it utilizes a habit-building method called habit stacking. Because eating lunch is something you do every day on auto-pilot, stacking a walk onto that ingrained habit will help anchor movement into your daily routine.

Do Desk Exercises

There are several types of exercises you can do at your desk. Plus, equipment such as an under-the-desk peddler can help keep you moving and burning calories during your workday.

According to research, these devices have been shown to be beneficial for overweight office workers, who increased daily calorie burn without discomfort. You can also keep resistance bands and dumbbells nearby to grab when you are on calls, listening to meetings from your desk, or during one of your breaks.

Try Walking Meetings

If you feel comfortable, try pitching the idea of walking meetings. Whenever a brainstorming session or one-on-one meeting takes place with co-workers, taking the meeting on the move might be an option everyone can benefit from. Not only will it potentially increase creativity, but you will be able to get more movement into your day as well.

Take Advantage Of the Stairs

If your building has stairs, skip the elevator and take the stairs whenever you can. This recommendation is a popular, well-known one for a reason.

Stair climbing can burn three times as many calories as standing or light walking, making it a NEAT champion. Plus, stair walking exercise breaks can increase your cardio fitness level, reduce the risk of disease, and boost your fitness level.

Create Opportunities to Walk

Look for creative ways to build more walking into your day. Have a memo that you need to send to a co-worker? Get up and walk it over instead of relying on messaging or email.

Bring a small water bottle to work and fill it up as soon as it is empty. Park further away in the parking lot to increase your steps to and from the building.

And, walk to pick up your lunch rather than having it delivered to the office. Little trips like these will add up to substantial steps over the day.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Part of winning the battle with adding movement into your routine involves thinking things through or planning ahead. To set yourself up for success, use these tips to make movement more seamless and natural.

  • Schedule it: Schedule your breaks, lunch workouts, and movement into the day and stick to it.
  • Wear comfortable shoes: Either wear or bring comfortable, supportive shoes you can move easily in to increase your motivation and desire to move more.
  • Keep basic fitness equipment nearby: If you keep workout equipment within sight, you’ll be more likely to use it. Using an exercise ball or balance disc are also great options for increasing NEAT.
  • Use a headset for calls: Walking while on calls is much easier and better for your posture when you use a headset or earphones with a microphone.
  • Add comfortable flooring: If you plan on standing at your desk, you might want to invest in a padded mat for comfort.
  • Find a workout buddy: Social support can increase your motivation and accountability to stick to your movement plans. Find someone to join you on your lunch break walks.

A Word From Verywell

A lack of movement in the day can increase soreness and lead to weight gain. Although it can feel challenging to combat a sedentary job, you can increase your activity during the day with some simple shifts.

Also, don't try to do it all at once. Simply add one or two new habits at a time and build on them. Your body and mind will thank you. And, you just might inspire others at work to follow suit.

15 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bassett DR, Wyatt HR, Thompson H, Peters JC, Hill JO. Pedometer-measured physical activity and health behaviors in U.S. adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(10):1819-25. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181dc2e54

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity for different groups.

  3. National Institute of Health, National Library of Medicine. The role of non-exercise activity thermogenesis in human obesity. PMID:25905303

  4. Career Builder. Forty-five percent of workers say they have gained weight in their current job, according to new CareerBuilder survey

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult obesity causes and consequences.

  6. Florido R, Kwak L, Lazo M, et al. Six-Year changes in physical activity and the risk of Incident heart failure. Circulation. 2018;137(20):2142-2151. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.117.030226

  7. Takács J. Regular physical activity and mental health. The role of exercise in the prevention of, and intervention in depressive disorders. Psychiatr Hung. 2014;29(4):386-397. PMID:25569828.

  8. Anderson E, Shivakumar G. Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Front Psychiatry. 2013;4:27. Published 2013 Apr 23. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027

  9. Lee DE, Seo SM, Woo HS, Won SY. Analysis of body imbalance in various writing sitting postures using sitting pressure measurement. J Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(2):343-346. doi:10.1589/jpts.30.343

  10. Smith JAB, Savikj M, Sethi P, et al. Three weeks of interrupting sitting lowers fasting glucose and glycemic variability, but not glucose tolerance, in free-living women and men with obesity. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2021;321(2):E203-E216. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00599.2020

  11. Oppezzo M, Schwartz DL. Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 2014;40(4):1142-1152. doi:10.1037/a0036577

  12. Buckley JP, Hedge A, Yates T, et al. The sedentary office: An expert statement on the growing case for change towards better health and productivity. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;49(21):1357-1362. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094618

  13. Carr LJ, Leonhard C, Tucker S, Fethke N, Benzo R, Gerr F. Total Worker Health Intervention Increases Activity of Sedentary Workers. Am J Prev Med. 2015;50(1):9-17. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2015.06.022

  14. Harvard Health Publishing. Step up your walking game

  15. Jenkins EM, Nairn LN, Skelly LE, Little JP, Gibala MJ. Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness? Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2019;44(6):681-684. doi:10.1139/apnm-2018-0675

By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.