You go as hard as you can in the gym. But even if you train multiple times a week with hour-long sessions, you’re still spending the overwhelming majority of your time not working out. If you want what’s best for your gains, it’s important to think outside of the four walls of your gym.
It’s possible that you have a job that keeps you on your feet and active for most of the day, in which case you might want to focus on restorative movements that will help keep you mobile and injury-free. But it’s also possible that your job requires you to sit… and sit… and sit. If you want to move more during the day, try these simple, accessible exercises to keep you going.
Ways to Move More During the Day
- Walk While Taking Phone Calls
- Schedule a 30-Minute Walk Each Day
- Buy a Walking Treadmill for Your Desk
- Do 10 Squats Every Hour
- Do 10 Push-Ups Every Hour
- Perform One Stretch Every Hour
- Find Your Favorite Quick Workout
You probably can’t do all your Zoom meetings from your phone. But if you’ve got work meetings throughout the day, you better believe that taking them while walking around can make a huge difference to your health.
Especially if you’re used to pulling and pushing heavy barbells as your form of exercise, walking might not seem like “enough” physical activity. But think for a moment about how many phone calls you’ve got during the day. Take all that time and imagine being physically active during it.
Even if you’re just pacing back and forth in your apartment, those meeting minutes will rack up significantly. You’ll be surprised how much walking can improve your recovery, helping your body get back to baseline after hard and heavy squat sessions. Grab yourself a pair of headphones for a hands-free experience and walk that stiffness away.
Your meetings might be too involved for you to walk around during them. You might have to take extensive notes, or you might just prefer not to multitask. In that case, try penciling in at least one 30-minute walk each day.
Although it might not seem this way, walking can help you get stronger in the gym by improving all the factors surrounding your training. Going for walks can help reduce your stress, boost your immune health, and generally improve your cardiovascular system. This will all pay dividends when you want to show up to the lifting platform at your best.
It might not be practical to head outside for extensive walks, especially in the middle of the work day. But if you’ve got a desk job that you do home or work in a supportive office, consider investing in a treadmill.
Especially if you don’t live in a walking-friendly area, having a treadmill in your apartment can make it so much easier to get your steps in on the daily. You can even use your treadmill to take a stroll while catching up on your favorite TV series. There are budget treadmills out there so you can invest in your health without breaking the bank.
One of the trickiest things about a sedentary workday is the lull your body gets into. When you’re so focused on each task at hand, it’s tough to break up your day into moments of movement. Here, you can enlist the help of a trusty alarm (either on your desktop or your phone) to break up your day into flurries of activity.
If 10 squats feel too quick, feel free to bump the rep scheme up to 20 or even 30 reps. But remember that the idea is to get you moving rather than to completely exhaust you. Choose something sustainable that will make you look forward to your little movement break.
Doing 10 push-ups per hour is another humble but significant way to increase your amount of movement during the day. If you’re consistent with these push-ups throughout an eight-hour workday, you’re adding 80 push-ups to your routine. That’s not a shabby amount of chest training volume.
When you’re opting to do squats when the clock hits :00, try performing push-ups each time the clock gets to :30 minutes. This way, you’re sneaking in movement every half hour without risking boredom or monotony.
One stretch an hour might not sound like a lot, but it’s significantly more than no stretches per hour. You can pick your proverbial poison here. If you know your neck is stiff from all that time on your computer and phone, try any number of neck stretches to iron out those creaks and pains.
You can also bring your gym goals home with you. If you know you need to work on your overhead mobility, a thoracic mobility exercise or two might come in handy during the workday. When you’re dealing with tight ankles or hips, focusing on lower body mobility is sure to strengthen your squats.
For an added bonus, instead of doing one stretch per hour, try incorporating a five-minute mobility routine into your day-to-day life. Your lifts will thank you for it.
Your workouts don’t always need to be long. Even quick workouts can help get you closer to your goals. But even if you don’t have a full 15 or 20 minutes to devote to a full workout, there are even faster workouts to use to just get yourself moving.
If you’ve got a kettlebell at home, for example, take periodic breaks to do 25, 50, or even 100 kettlebell swings. You can structure a small timed workout, too. See how quickly you can do a round of 30 swings, 30 push-ups, 20 swings, 20 push-ups, 10 swings, and 10 push-ups.
Take one or two movements that you enjoy and combine them in a way that will take you less than five minutes to complete. Your heart will get thumping, but you likely won’t have enough time to break a full sweat.
What Does it Mean to Be Sedentary?
Sedentary activity refers to any activity that requires a low energy output, especially if that activity takes place in a seated or reclined position. Physical inactivity is a lack of moderate to vigorous exercise in sufficient amounts. What constitutes “sufficient” varies from person to person, but the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 30 minutes a day of physical activity for adults.
For people with various disabilities — for example, wheelchair users and/or people with chronic pain — research suggests that it’s less important to focus on the total amount of time spent doing physical activity. Instead, focus on giving yourself short breaks from being completely sedentary if, when, and how you feel able to do so. (1)(2)
Even if you’re a gym rat, you can still have an overall sedentary lifestyle, which makes sedentary behavior slightly different from physical activity. Correcting sedentary behavior can be as simple as increasing your physical activity in small ways throughout the day. (3)(4)
Do You Need to Move More Even if You Exercise?
Physical activity is any movement that requires your muscles to move and use energy. Just like in the gym, physical activity in daily life takes many forms — from actually doing your workout to vacuuming your apartment.
On the other hand, exercise is a category within physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive. The goal of exercise is the improvement or maintenance of physical fitness. So if you’re going to the gym four to six times a week to exercise, you’re getting a lot of physical activity in that respect. But even if you love the gym, you may not be physically active otherwise.
Even when you do vigorous exercise regularly, you may still be largely sedentary if you spend more time sitting than standing or walking. Adding in extra movement throughout your day with simple exercises can help integrate movement into your overall lifestyle instead of having huge blocks of stillness peppered with relatively short bursts of movement.
Benefits of Moving More Outside of the Gym
Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health. Here are some of the specifics of why you might want to move more often — even if you work out regularly.
Help Your Mental Health
Depression and anxiety disorders are common mental health conditions, with an estimated 19 percent of adults in the United States experiencing anxiety and 10 percent experiencing depression in the past year. (6) Consistent aerobic and resistance exercises may be an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. (6)
Yoga can also be effective in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders. (6) There is no data that suggests these interventions cause harm to people with mental health conditions, so they are recommended with the understanding that additional treatment or psychotherapy may be needed.
Improve Physical Health
Regular physical activity improves brain function, increases blood flow, strengthens bones and muscles, reduces the risk of certain diseases, and improves your ability to do everyday activities. (3) In many cases, the more you move (within reason), the more you’ll be able to do every day with less pain.
Physical activity outside of a fitness setting adds variety to an active lifestyle and creates more opportunities for rest and recovery. Staying active while giving your body time to recover from intense training sessions is a major part of physical progress.
Since many strength athletes love the rigors of training, it can be emotionally tough to stay away from the gym on rest days. By integrating more movement into your everyday life, you may be more likely to stick to your rest times since you’ll give yourself little tastes of low-intensity movement throughout the day.
Tips for Moving More Often Outside the Gym
These simple guidelines can help create a manageable and sustainable plan to move from sedentary behavior patterns to a more active way of living.
Take Regular Breaks From Screens
Fifty percent of all people perform at least one sedentary task daily for work or leisure. (3) The combination of low-energy output and increased mental activity from screens can create metabolic dysfunction. This leads to decreased sleep, increased appetite, hormonal imbalances, and physical stress. (8)
Try taking regular five to 10-minute breaks for every hour you spend being otherwise sedentary. (9) You can get up and grab a snack or a drink, take a walk, talk to a friend or family member, or focus your attention on other interests.
Make Physical Activity a Habit
Make a plan to include physical activity in your routine daily. Taking a regular fitness class, or playing sports with friends or teammates are great options, but physical activity is not limited to high-intensity forms of exercise.
Consider tying your favorite movements described above to a daily habit you already have. For example, perform your favorite five-minute workout to get your blood pumping and reduce stress after work meetings. Take a consistent walk before or after lunch. Do some push-ups after brushing your teeth. Whatever moves you want or need to do daily, make it a habit — just like your trips to the gym.
Set Clear Boundaries
We all know the feeling of just wanting to curl up on the couch and binge a show for hours. While this is fun, it can limit your ability to make a habit out of physical activity. Set clear boundaries for when, how, and for how long you enjoy sedentary behaviors each day.
Maybe it’s by watching an hour of TV a day, turning your phone off an hour or two before bed, or responding to calls and texts at designated times. When you set clear boundaries for the use of devices, you can significantly reduce the time you spend in sedentary behavior patterns.
Progress Over Perfection
It can feel intimidating to make big lifestyle changes for your health. Progress is not a clear path, so don’t rush to make strides too quickly. Try adding one low-intensity exercise to your daily routine and see how it feels. Once this becomes routine, add another, then another. Eventually, you’ll find yourself moving more often — or with higher emphasis on mobility and recovery — every day.
Remember to start small and stay consistent. Focus on your progress no matter how small, trust yourself, and celebrate your wins. And yes, bodyweight squats count as wins.
- Ganz F, Hammam N, Pritchard L. Sedentary behavior and children with physical disabilities: a scoping review. Disabil Rehabil. 2021 Oct;43(20):2963-2975.
- Geneen LJ, Moore RA, Clarke C, Martin D, Colvin LA, Smith BH. Physical activity and exercise for chronic pain in adults: an overview of Cochrane Reviews. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Jan 14;1(1):CD011279.
- Panahi, Shirin, and Angelo Tremblay. “Sedentariness and Health: Is Sedentary Behavior More Than Just Physical Inactivity?.” Frontiers in public health vol. 6 258. 10 Sep. 2018.
- Gibbs, Bethany Barone et al. “Definition, measurement, and health risks associated with sedentary behavior.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 47,6 (2015): 1295-300.
- Jerath, Ravinder et al. “Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system.” Medical hypotheses vol. 67,3 (2006): 566-71.
- Saeed, S. A., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R. M. (2019). Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. American family physician, 99(10), 620–627.
- Manini, Todd M et al. “Interventions to reduce sedentary behavior.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 47,6 (2015): 1306-10.
- Waters, Clarice N et al. “Assessing and understanding sedentary behaviour in office-based working adults: a mixed-method approach.” BMC public health vol. 16 360. 27 Apr. 2016.
Featured Image: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock