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How Desk-Based Entrepreneurs Can Stay Active Every Day


Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

8 minute read

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As an entrepreneur in today’s world, chances are that you’re spending more time sitting behind a desk than you are running marathons or playing sports.

That’s not to say we’re lazy, but with the amount of time, energy, and focus we must commit to running our businesses every day, finding any left over to get ourselves to the gym or out on the hiking trails feels all but impossible.

But with the benefits of physical activity so closely tied to increased productivity, it’s not just our health that could suffer, but our businesses, too.

How active should we really be?

If you’re one of the 81% of people who spend between 4-9 hours a day sitting at their desk, you may have wondered about the negative effects your sedentary lifestyle could potentially be having on your health.

It’s no secret that sitting all day isn’t good for us. Our bodies were meant for movement, so when we sit for long periods of time, it opens the door to a host of issues. Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, back, neck, hip, and leg problems, plus lower energy and productivity levels have all been linked to sedentary lifestyles.

So the question is, how can we mitigate the damaging effects of our desk-based life? Is there any hope for us at all?

The good news is that it’s not only possible but manageable, too.

According to a recent meta-analysis that studied the fitness tracker data of 40,000 participants across four countries, just 30-40 minutes of moderate activity a day is enough to negate the impact of sitting all day. What’s more, you don’t need to torture yourself at the gym, anything that raises your heart rate counts!

10 easy ways to add more activity into your day

Juggling running a business, your life at home, and maintaining your physical fitness is certainly a tricky task, but not an impossible one. To help get you started, here are some of the most effective ways of being more active in your daily life—with minimal hassle.

1. Set regular reminders to stand up and move around

For many of us, it can be all too easy to get lost in our work. You can be in the zone for hours without realizing it. Suddenly, you look up and see that it's 5 pm and you haven't moved from your desk all day.

If you’re a frequent victim of this particular trap, regular alarms or notifications could be your answer to combatting this accidental sedentarism.

These reminders can be as frequent as you like, depending on the number of meetings or tasks that require deep focus, for example. For the best results, try not to go longer than two hours of sitting continuously.

As an added benefit, you could take these little mini breaks away from your desk as opportunities to grab a drink of water to make sure you’re staying hydrated throughout the day.

2. Try standing or walking meetings

Experts say that our spines are designed for movement, and sitting for too long can cause its ligaments, muscles, and joint structures to fatigue over time, which can result in pain and irritation.

The next time you have a conference call or a virtual meeting where you don’t have to be on camera, try getting up on your feet. Not only will it help tackle the discomfort caused by sitting for too long, but by simply standing, you can burn between 40-70% more calories than by sitting. For example, a 160-pound person burns an extra 35-40 calories each hour they spent on their feet—no workout required. Better yet, grab some wireless headphones and try and get your step count up to burn even more calories.

Standing desks have become increasingly popular for this exact reason, and a wide range of options exist to suit every budget. For instance, Harmoni’s table-mounted offerings are perfect for people with limited space who also care about beautiful designs and Fully offers high-end, eco-friendly motorized desks for a fully customizable experience. However, you don’t necessarily need a standing desk to achieve this result. Another option is to use your kitchen counter or stack books or boxes on your regular desk to give you a break from sitting down.

3. Take the stairs

If you're looking for an easy way to sneak in some cardio, going up and down the stairs is a great way to get your heart rate up and burn some extra calories without having to go to the gym or for a run.

Plus, it's free and you can do it anywhere!

4. Swap your desk chair for an exercise ball

Working out doesn't have to be a chore. By using an exercise ball as your chair, you can get some exercise while you work. This will improve your posture and balance, while also engaging your core muscles.

Sitting on an exercise ball requires you to keep your body upright and make small adjustments as you try to maintain your balance. This simple activity can help get rid of any back pain you might be having due to sitting in the same position for long periods of time.

5. Stretch

The importance of regular stretches cannot be understated, especially for those who spend the majority of their days hunched over a computer.

Stretching not only helps to avoid sore and stiff muscles, it can also improve your flexibility and help you de-stress.

6. Desk exercises

If you’re having one of those days where it’s impossible to get away from your desk, there are still things you can do to keep moving.

  • Arm wraps
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Head turns (left to right)
  • Head tilts (forwards and backward)
  • Arm circles
  • Calf raises
  • Torso twists
  • Leg swings (side to side)
  • Leg lifts

7. Make use of your lunch break

A quick walk around the block during your lunch hour is a great way to get moving, plus, fresh air and sunlight are a natural mood and energy booster, so you’ll return to your work feeling refreshed and refocused. But there are also plenty of options that don’t require you to leave the building.

Simple exercises such as lunges, wall sits, squats, and jumping jacks (to name just a few) can all be done from the comfort of your office, and there’s no shortage of free online fitness or yoga videos you can follow along with.

Keep in mind though that it's important to still make time to eat lunch—skipping meals will only result in low energy levels for the rest of the day.

8. Cook your meals

When you picture exercise, I bet cooking isn’t the first example that comes to mind.

Many people don't think of it in this way, but the act of preparing food yourself—standing, light lifting, and chopping, for example—certainly burns more calories than eating at a restaurant or ordering take-out. In fact, a 160-pound person could expect to burn around 83 calories in 30 minutes of cooking.

Preparing your own meals doesn’t just help you burn more calories, you’re also more likely to consume fewer calories overall than eating out or ordering in.

9. Clean your space

Whether you love it or hate it, studies have shown that a clutter-free space can help you be more focused, calmer, and less stressed.

And not only is it satisfying to have a clean and organized space, but you get the added benefit of a quick workout thrown in, too. According to experts, 30 minutes of light cleaning can burn around 85 calories, while the same amount of time spent on vigorous cleaning burns around 102 calories.

10. Block time in your schedule

We could start out with the best of intentions of doing any of the activities on this list, but whether it’s a last-minute meeting, an organizational fire that needs putting out, or even just being so busy you simply forget, there are so many potential hurdles that could arise at any minute that jump the queue to the top of our priorities. Then before we know it, another day has passed with minimal movements.

The key to making sure this never falls by the wayside is to be intentional. If you had an appointment scheduled in your calendar, I’m sure that in most cases you would never dream of missing it. So why not treat keeping active in the same way?

Find the most convenient time of day when you can realistically fit in 30 minutes of activity, and block it out in your schedule. You’ll find you’re far less likely to get derailed when you have a dedicated slot in your day.

It’s also worth telling your friends, family, or co-workers about your plans. This way, they'll be able to keep you accountable and provide much-needed motivation and support that can make all the difference.

What’s the bottom line?

Reaping the rewards of a successful business is immensely gratifying, but not at the cost of your health. Taking care of our bodies and minds should be a top priority; it's the foundation on which all else is built.

We often think that being physically fit is out of our reach, especially when we have desk jobs. But even a small amount of physical activity is better than none, and you don't need to break the bank or disrupt your regular busy routine to achieve it. All it takes is a little creativity and effort, and a happier, healthier, and more productive you is sure to follow.

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About the author

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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