9 simple desk exercises to improve your health and wellbeing

Written by
Jennifer Ellis

19 Apr 2017

19 Apr 2017 • by Jennifer Ellis

When workplace pressure gets too much, and you feel trapped in a negative thought-cycle, it’s crucial to take back some control over your feelings. 

Even with a limited amount of time you can create space to bring yourself back into balance, manage your stress levels and gain some much-needed perspective after a hard day or a tough week. Use these tips to give yourself a mental and physical stretch and reset. 

Stretch your mind in 5, 10 and 15+ minutes:


If you have 5 minutes...

  1. Take 5 long, slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths, lengthening and deepening the exhale. Imagine you are exhaling stress and inhaling energy.
  2. Stand up and stretch.
  3. Spend a moment in contemplation and immerse yourself in a memory of a time when you felt most happy and relaxed.
  4. Remember humour is a good way of blowing off steam – however tricky the situation, look for the funny side.

If you can take a 10 minute break...

  1. Go for a brisk walk or climb some stairs.
  2. Do a few desk stretches in your chair, to loosen up tight muscles.
  3. Focus on action not reaction: our stress increases if we feel a work situation is out of our control. Note the aspects you think you can control and focus on them, letting go of those aspects you can’t.
  4. List five things that are positive or amusing about a tense meeting or situation that you have just come out of.


If you can spare 15-20 minutes...

  1. Unwind by elevating your legs: lie on your back with your feet and calves on a chair so there is about a 90-degree bend at your hips and knees. Focus on relaxing your breath: 15–20 minutes in this ‘constructive rest’ position is equal to a 2-hour nap.
  2. Simplify and eliminate: unnecessary distractions and interruptions increase our stress. Simplify your work area into a non-distraction work space and limit the amount of information on view.
  3. Practise 15 minutes’ seated meditation, focusing on the body breathing itself.
  4. Take a walk outside, if possible. Breathe the fresh air and connect with nature.
  5. Listen to a piece of music you enjoy.

Stretch your body in 5, 10 and 15+ minutes:

1) Grounding 

Sit on front of chair. Feet firmly grounded. Hands on thighs. Practice slow breathing – inhale (note to yourself ‘breathing in’) and exhale (note to yourself ‘breathing out’). Practise with your eyes closed, focusing on slow breaths, clearing your thoughts to just focus on the movement of the breath in all the parts of the body involved. 

2) Arm stretch

Sit on chair. Feet shoulder width apart. Sit straight. Feet grounded. Gently engage core muscles. Lift arms to sides and overhead, lengthen the spine, hold and then lower. Repeat.

3) Chest opener

Sit on chair. Plant feet. Hold onto back of chair with hands and elbows bent. Press elbows towards each other – feel the stretch in your shoulders and opening your chest.

4) Backbend

Sit on chair. Plant feet. Interlace fingers behind your back (or hold edge of chair) and raise chest to ceiling, leading with the sternum and gently bending the back. Keep comfort in mind and don’t jam the neck backwards. 

5) Leg stretch 1

Sit on front of chair. Place right leg straight in front. Inhale. On exhale reach forward towards foot, hold for a breath round. Gently roll yourself up. Repeat on other side.
6) Leg stretch 2

Face chair. Place hands on chair. Bring left leg forward. To deepen the stretch in the forward leg, widen the stance. Repeat on other side. Bend your knees if your back is rounded and you feel all the stretch in the lower back.
7) Side bend

Sit on chair with feet flat on floor. Reach up with left hand, palm facing inwards, holding onto edge of chair with right hand. Press down on seat with right hand and, with straight back, stretch left hand up and over your head. Hold. Release. Repeat on other side. 

8) Chair squat

Stand behind chair. Feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Place hands on top of chair. Look straight ahead, finding a gazing point on the wall or floor. If your balance is ok, bring arms straight out in front, parallel to floor with palms facing each other. Inhaling, bend knees to lower into a squat. To come back to standing, exhale as you push into the heels. 
9) Legs up

Take rest. If the neck is uncomfortable place a cushion under the back of the head.