20 Heart-Healthy Ways to Fit Exercise Into Your Workday

Doctor making the shape of a heart with her hands

Give your heart some love by celebrating American Heart Month throughout February! No need for expensive chocolates. Exercise is the best way to treat your (sweet)heart.

According to the American Heart Association, regular physical activity can lower bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and manage high blood pressure. You don’t need to schedule a personal trainer or join a boutique gym to get started. Anything that gets you moving during the workday and reduces time spent in a desk chair helps keep your ticker at its best.

Sit less, move more

Most people sit for more than half the day, raising their risk for diabetes, heart problems, and all sorts of life-shortening diseases, according to physician and obesity specialist James Levine. Writing in Scientific American, Levine grimly reports that "when you combine all causes of death and compare any group of sitters with those who are more active, sitters have a 50 percent greater likelihood of dying."

The good news

Even a little activity during each workday can go a long way to counteract the health risks of sitting. While many health IT jobs keep you glued for long hours at a time to a computer keyboard, squeezing a bit of unexpected exercise into your daily routine can make you more productive, keeping your body agile and your mind sharp.

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Quick-and-easy exercises to support heart health

Here are 20 tips for incorporating simple movements into the workday:

  1. On a morning Zoom check-in with your colleagues? Don’t be afraid to stand up and stretch your legs a bit to get that blood flowing.
  2. While you’re on hold waiting for that critical conference call to get underway, try squeezing your glutes together for 10-20 seconds at a clip.
  3. Try triceps dips. Scoot to the front of the chair (stationary, not rolling), with both hands facing forward. Place palms flat on chair, bend your elbows straight back, and lower yourself straight down several inches, keeping your back as close to the chair as possible. Then straighten your arms to rise back to start.
  4. Do a set of 15-20 burpees right next to your desk to keep your circulation moving.
  5. If your desk chair swivels, try tightening your abs and sitting up straight with your hands on your hips. Twist side to side, actively engaging your core.
  6. If you need a bit of a break from being on the phone or typing away at your keyboard, take a brisk 5-minute stroll around the block when time allows– preferably every hour or two.
  7. Keep light hand weights nearby for daily bicep curls.
  8. Try a quick stationary jog in place for 60 seconds. Pick up your knees to amp up that heart rate.
  9. If you have a few minutes of downtime, try doing a set of 20-30 push-ups against the nearest wall.
  10. As long as your knees are strong, try doing a set of 10-12 basic lunges, jumping up and alternating the position of your feet each time.
  11. Stand with your back against the wall. Placing your feet slightly in front of you, bend your knees and slide your back down the wall. Hold that position for as long as you’re comfortable before returning upright.
  12. Standing up straight with your hands lightly resting in front of you on a chair or desk, stand on your tip-toes and balance on the balls of your feet, lifting and lowering your heels.
  13. If you find your legs get a bit stiff throughout the day from too much sitting, standing, or even walking, try some seated leg lifts while at a seated position (try a set of 10 per leg, pointing your toes on the way up and flexing them on the way down).
  14. If you’ve just landed that hot new client, celebrate your victory by putting on your favorite guilty pleasure song and doing a little dance.
  15. Try a 30-second plank. If you’re feeling ambitious, immediately continue with a set of 10-20 pushups.
  16. Standing up, release your inner Rocky Balboa by throwing a set of punches into the air. A mere 30 seconds of this is surprisingly effective for your arms!
  17. Consider using a giant yoga ball or a balance ball chair for a few hours a day to help activate your core.
  18. Invest in a Pilates band or a small medicine ball to use as needed throughout the day.
  19. Try a standing desk (or, if comfortable and well-coordinated, a treadmill desk).
  20. Lastly, incorporate stretching your neck–a part of your body likely stiff from staring into a smartphone or computer screen for hours on end – into your daily work routine. Lift your shoulders to your ears, holding the position for 10-20 seconds before rolling your shoulders backward and forwards a few times.

(Originally published 2017; updated by Hailey Kurtenbach Feb 2021)