The desk jockey survival guide


  • Increased time spent sedentary has been correlated with health problems such as diabetes and obesity
  • Break up your sedentary time, take a break every hour
  • Sit less, move more, feel better


Sedentary Behavior

Sedentary behaviors (from the Latin sedere, “to sit”) include sitting during commuting, in the workplace and the domestic environment, and during leisure time. Basically behaviors which involve sitting and low levels of energy expenditure roughly 1.0 to 1.5 METs (1MET = 1 kcal·kg−1·h−1).

Globally, the world’s population is moving less and less. Most of us, including the youth, spend an average 7 to 10 hours engaged in sedentary behaviors. Even those who exercise regularly are guilty of it. In fact, they may even be spending more time engaging in sedentary behavior than the average joe.

Read more here:
Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors in the United States, 2003-2004.

Why is sitting bad?

From a meta-analysis and systematic review published in in the medical journal Diabetologia, increased time spent sedentary has been associated with:

  • 112% increase in risk of diabetes
  • 147% increase in cardiovascular events
  • 90% increase in death due to cardiovascular events
  • 49% increase in death due to any cause

In addition, as Bret Contreras notes in his article “The Deleterious Effects of Sitting”, sitting;

  • reduces fat-burning enzymes by 50%.
  • decreases the HDL:LDL cholesterol ratio, increases the risk of diabetes, increases the risk of heart disease, increases the incidents of depression, increases the risk of acquiring metabolic syndrome
  • increases incidences of discomfort, chronic disorders, arthritis, inflamed tendons, chronic joint degeneration, impaired circulation, varicose veins, hypertension, obesity, cancer, high blood triglycerides, high blood sugar, osteoporosis, and herniated discs

In addition, too much sitting causes inhibited gluteal muscles (butt muscles) aka “Gluteal Amnesia”. Which means that the gluteal muscles atrophy and become weak. This results in other muscles having to compensate for it and cause your posture and movement patterns to erode. Leading to problems such as lower back pain, tight hamstrings and a higher probability of lower limb injuries.

Read more here:
The Deleterious Effects of Sitting
Having desk job ‘doubles risk’ of heart attack
Sitting and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality

Taking action

Due to the nature of our jobs, we have to be at our desks for the majority of our waking hours. And unless your company is nice enough to sponsor you a walking or standing desk, you’re dead in the water. So what can you do about it?

Be a “breaker”

From the AusDiab study taking breaks when sedentary were correlated with improved metabolic biomarkers compared to “prolongers” who spend large chunks of time sedentary, even when total accumulated time spent sedentary was the same. Breaks can be just standing up from sitting, taking a walk or just doing some stretching. Basically any activity that interrupts the sedentary behavior.

Breaks in sedentary time: same amount of sedentary time, but different ways of accumulation.

Another finding from the AusDiab study is that a higher frequency of breaks in sedentary time has a positive effect on waist circumference, body mass index, triglycerides and glucose levels. Even after taking into account total sedentary time and the amount and intensity of exercise the study participants took part in. As shown in the chart below, those who took the least breaks had a 6cm larger waist circumference than the most frequent breakers

Waist circumference difference between prolongers and breakers.

Breaker starters

This section will cover exercises you can do in the comfort of your chair with no equipment and will draw minimal attention.

  1. Desk yoga
    Easy yoga moves that can be done without lifting your butt off the seat.
  2. Chin tucks/Neck resets
    Neck pain? Solve your neck issues and improve your posture with these easy drills.
  3. Seated glute and piriformis stretches
    Work out the kinks in your lower limbs with these simple stretches
  4. Use your foot to write out every letter of the alphabet, leading with your big toe.
    Improves your ankle’s strength and mobility at the same time.
  5. Increase your walking;
    Collect your printouts from the furthest network printer, use another level’s toilet etc. Be creative!

Advanced breaking

The exercises in this section will involve some some sort of equipment and might not be as stealthy as the exercises from the previous section.

  1. Massage your feet with a ball/soup can/solid cylindrical object
    Check out this guide
  2. Convert your desk to a stand-sit desk. But remember to first weigh the pros and cons before embarking on this project!
  3. Underdesk stepper or elliptical
    Alternatives to standing/treadmill desk
  4. Standing stretches
    These stretches will require you to get off your chair and might be rather attention grabbing
  5. Resistance band exercises
    Sit and pump. Get swole at your desk.


These exercises are to be done outside the office to help counteract the detrimental effects of sitting.

    1. Strengthening and flexibility drills for the glutes, psoas and piriformis
      Helps strengthen the muscles that are negatively affected by sedentary behavior
    2. Coach Jay’s Myrtl routine
      Great routine to strengthen and increase the ROM of your hip girdle
    3. Sun salutations, Dancing warrior and Moon salutations
      Yoga flows to help relieve your tight muscles

Further reading

Interested in finding out more about sitting? Check out the links below:

SNR #95: Dr. James Levine – Physiological & Psychological Effects of Chronic Sitting & Low NEAT

In this podcast, Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic discuss with the host Danny Lennon, the effect of chronic sitting on the risk of blood sugar dysregulation, fat gain, obesity, neurological issues, productivity and general well-being.

    • What happens on a physiological level when we go from sitting to standing/walking?
    • The power of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
    • Inter-individual variability in body composition response to a given dietary intervention
    • Chronic sitting and risk of developing chronic diseases
    • How less sitting can improve psychological health, creativity and productivity
    • How to practically implement in your lifestyle
    • Bringing it to the mainstream: schools and offices

99% Invisible Episode 139 – Edge of your seat

In this podcast, the 99PI team does a deep dive into the design of the chair and the current “chair backlash”.


Questions, comments, feedback? Tweet me @guavarilla


2 thoughts on “Are you sitting down?

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