Anyone whose job requires them to sit at a desk for several hours a day knows that sluggish and stiff feeling that often comes with sedentary working, which also has a huge impact on overall health.
Theresa Marko, a board-certified orthopedic physical therapist and member of the American Physical Therapy Association, said that chronic sitting isn’t just bad for cardiovascular health, it can influence overall circulation. From an orthopedic standpoint, Marko said, chronic sitting also negatively affects everything from joints to muscles, and over time can lead to limited mobility and chronic pain, particularly in areas like the hip flexors and lumbar spine.
Her number one solution for preventing sedentary-related pain and potential health problems is to get moving. However, Marko assured us that implementing physical activity in the work day doesn’t have to be intimidating or even time-consuming. She suggested what she refers to as “exercise snacks.”
“Just like you would take a food snack, exercise snacks are little 10-minute exercise breaks where you do squats, pedal at your bike, stretch or walk around before going back to your desk,” Marko said, adding that committing to these small breaks of movement every one or two hours can be a more manageable method of light exercise for most people.
“The research is proving that exercise snacks are really good for you. They add up and it really helps your circulation, muscles and overall health,” she said.
Exercise snacks can even be done at your desk using a variety of easy-to-incorporate tools or nothing at all, as long as there’s variability of movement and changing of positions.
We were curious about Marko’s opinions on some of the popular at-desk exercise tools that we’ve seen floating around, as well product suggestions she has herself. See what she had to say in the list ahead, which includes items like standing desk toppers, desk bikes and other simple workspace additions.
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An electric standing desk
Board-certified orthopedic physical therapist Theresa Marko
said that she's a huge fan of simply standing, because it allows you to change positions and gives you an opportunity to stretch out. She said you can use standing desks, like the one we chose here, that allow you to sit or stand while working and also provide the opportunity to implement exercise tools such as walking pads (below).
This highly rated motorized standing desk promises enhanced stability and can be adjusted to four programmable height settings with the touch of a button. It's available in five sizes and several finish and frame color combinations.
An adjustable desk riser
Marko pointed out that you can convert an existing desk into a standing desk using an adjustable topper like this one that we chose for its high ratings and versatility. Available in five sizes and eight finishes, this adjustable desk riser features dual working spaces to accommodate sitting or standing, pneumatically extends and can support up to 33 pounds.
A foam standing pad
Marko said that standing for an extended period of time can get uncomfortable, so she suggested standing on a pair of foam pads that offer cushioning and allow you to shift your body weight.
"You want to change your position a little bit. Shift from one leg to the other, put your foot up on something to just change your hip position. And having cushioning while you're standing is also helpful," she said.
Available in a variety of thicknesses and sizes, this slip-resistant standing pad that we found on Amazon is made from a shock-absorbing closed cell foam and promises to be easy to clean.
A foldable under-desk walking pad
Marko acknowledged that walking pads have become a very popular addition to many work-from-home set ups. HuffPost's own editors have touted the benefits
of this splurge-worthy folding treadmill that can keep you moving while you work at a standing desk.
The Walking Pad offers three quiet speeds that can be controlled using your feet or through a remote, and with rollers to make maneuvering the pad a breeze. Its most loved feature, however, might be that it can be folded up compactly and stored beneath a bed or sofa when not in use.
Before you make the decision to incorporate a walking pad at your desk, Marko said to be sure that you don't have any balance issues or preexisting conditions that would make it unsafe for you to use one, since safety rails are typically absent on most foldable desk treadmills.
A compact fold-away bike
"I bought a folding bike that's just in my office. It's nice, not that expensive and you can fold them up and put them in the closet when company comes over," Marko said. To get in her 10-minute exercise snacks throughout her workday, she uses a bike similar to this popular stationary option that we found.
Featuring a height-adjustable seat and eight levels of magnetic resistance, this electronic bike displays useful tracking like distance biked and calories burned and folds up flat so it's easy to store.
An under-desk pedal exerciser
Marko considers under-desk bikes to be a pretty good idea, but recommends securing them against a wall while in use to prevent them from sliding and to take the height of your desk into consideration.
We found this popular floor peddler that can be used while sitting in your office chair and features adjustable height options to accommodate a variety of desks. There are eight magnetic resistance levels to choose from and your progress can be tracked manually or recorded by connecting it to your existing fitness watch.
A biking work station
Another biking option we picked, this all-in-one workstation features an adjustable work surface and seat, along with eight peddling resistance levels. Also available in black, the station is built on rollers to make moving and storing easier.
A core-engaging stool
According to Marko, wobble stools used for a short time can be a good way to engage your core while also providing some variability in movement. These chairs typically feature a weighted base and a seat that allows a greater range of motion because the stools can wobble 360 degrees when you sit on them. She doesn't suggest using these stools for the whole day because they have the potential to lead to unsupported sitting or slouching if muscles become fatigued from holding yourself upright for prolonged periods. Instead, once you start to feel tension or feel achy or sore, Marko cautioned to give it a rest. "Again, I think the key is changing positions," she said.
We found this particular wobble stool that comes in four different colors and has an adjustable height range of 10 inches, an ergonomic sloped seat and weighted dynamic base that allows for a safe range of motion.
A supportive and height-adjustable chair
"I like having a nice supportive chair with good cushioning that you can adjust and make it... as high or low as you need," Marko said.
We picked this ergonomic office chair because we thought it best fit Marko's preferences and descriptions. It offers a high back with a built-in S-shaped lumbar support and responsive cushioning throughout. Available in five colors, this desk chair is height-adjustable and features a tilt lock to prevent you from leaning too far back.
An adjustable height foot stool
Marko said that the downward force of gravity is not always best for circulation, so she recommends occasionally elevating your feet.
"I often tell people to put a stool under your desk. You can put one leg up, elongate that knee, elongate the calf muscle, and then do some flossing of [the] legs, which means pumping the ankles back and forth," she said.
Made from a compression-resistant and high-density memory foam, this footrest we found on Amazon can be positioned on all sides to meet your height needs.
A set of resistance exercise bands
Marko also suggests having stretchy exercise bands at your desk, a simple tool you can loop around your arms as you hold them above your head in a Y-shape and open and close your arms. "You can also put one around your knees, and do some opening and closing of the thighs while sitting," Marko said.
We found this set of looped exercise bands that come in five different resistance intensities and are made from a tear-resistant natural latex.