Working a 9-to-5 office job comes with several perks. For one thing, you have a structure built into your day and there’s a natural separation between your work and personal life. You can also bond with co-workers and network for a better position by forming relationships within the company.
However, traditional office jobs mean you sit for eight to nine hours a day — just at work. That’s not counting when you sit down to eat, go to the bathroom or rest in the evening. It’s easy to gain weight and generally feel unwell from all this inactivity. This is backed up by research on how sitting negatively affects people’s health.
Research connects sitting for long periods with a higher mortality rate. Desk workers with low physical activity have an increased risk of heart problems, cancer, depression, diabetes and obesity. The human body was made to move, and sitting still for too long negatively impacts almost every physical system.
Fortunately, you can take steps to keep your job and your health. Moving at work won’t give you the endorphin rush you get at the gym, but it can help you burn more calories and feel better at the end of the day. If you’re intentional with your movements and time, you can stay fit at the office even with an injury.
How to Burn Calories at Your Desk
Your body uses calories as fuel for energy. When you walk, run or work out, your body automatically uses more energy and burns more calories than when you’re sitting. That’s why burning calories at work can be so challenging — you have to sit still for long periods to be productive. How can you burn calories at your desk?
The best way to burn calories at work is by incorporating more movement into your day. However, you can do several other sneaky things to improve your daily calorie burn. Every choice you make to improve your metabolism and physical fitness outside of work will also increase the number of calories you burn while on the job.
These seven tips will help you craft a plan for staying fit while working a typical 9-to-5 office job. The more strategies you combine, the more effective your method will be. Try to aim for achievable habits and improve your schedule one thing at a time. Some may work better for you than others — listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
1. Create a Morning Routine
What does a morning routine have to do with burning more calories? You may have heard that what you do in the morning sets your mood and mental state for the rest of the day. The same thing is true for your body — a quick morning walk or 10-minute stretch can change how you feel and how many calories you burn for the rest of the day.
Eating a healthy breakfast is one of the most effective ways to jumpstart your metabolism for the day. Your body preserves calories while you’re sleeping. The first meal you eat lets you know it’s time to get up and running again. It balances your blood sugar, improves your focus, and increases your energy levels.
Studies suggest that drinking caffeinated coffee before a workout can boost your calorie burn. Although the research isn’t conclusive, it’s another good reason to have a morning cup of joe — without excess sugar and cream, of course. Avoid fried and sugary foods for breakfast and opt for healthy carbohydrates instead.
Gentle movements like stretching or taking a walk in the morning can help prep your body for the day. Although a workout will boost your metabolism for a few hours, the effects won’t last all day. However, an early exercise routine can help you stay focused on your fitness goals and get in more movement throughout the day.
Your co-workers won’t know your morning routine unless you tell them. However, the choices you make when you roll out of bed in the morning will affect how many calories you burn while at the office. Follow these steps to start your day well:
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Avoid sugary and fried foods
- Drink coffee before working out
- Stretch when you get up
- Focus on fitness with an early workout
2. Change Your Diet
The way you eat also affects how many calories you burn throughout the day. For example, most dieticians recommend breaking large meals into several small snacks. This helps balance your blood sugar and keeps your body managing energy and burning calories all day. Did you know that skipping meals can reduce your metabolism?
That means it’s important to watch the clock and take time to eat lunch. Packing your own meal can save money and let you be intentional with your nutrition. Eating healthy food will help you feel full and reduce unhealthy cravings. Choose nutritious snacks throughout the day, such as protein-rich foods, instead of sugary junk.
Research shows that drinking green tea can boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories throughout the day. It has many other benefits as well, so it’s a great idea to add it to your daily routine. Here are just a few ways green tea can help your body:
- It reduces stress
- It enhances your memory
- It lowers high blood pressure
- It’s associated with low cholesterol
- It helps prevent diabetes
You may also be able to increase your calorie burn by eating spicy foods like chili peppers. The spice speeds up your heart rate and warms your body. The excess heat can cause you to burn more calories — and sweat in some cases. Consistently adding spicy ingredients to your diet is another sneaky way to get fit.
3. Take Intentional Breaks
Adding movement to your breaks can increase the number of calories you burn over the workday. For example, use your lunchtime to take a brisk walk outside or around your building. Go up and down the stairs several times on shorter breaks to get your heart rate up. Try two steps at a time for higher intensity.
Do you need to use the restroom? Find a bathroom on a different floor to use. That way, you’ll have to walk and climb stairs and burn more calories each time you get up. Jump up and down a few times and do some basic stretches to relieve tension and get your blood moving while you’re there.
If no one’s in the stairwell, you can use that space during breaks to do some squats and stair pushups. Use the wall or time yourself for a 30-second wall sit if those are too challenging. You can use a full water bottle to do overhead tricep extensions or bicep curls. Try kickboxing moves like kicking or punching the air if you’re dressed for it.
Working out may sometimes feel mindless, but the best exercise is intentional. Focusing on your movements and mentally preparing your muscles will help you burn more calories during these mini workouts. Studies show that exercising for just 10 minutes can improve your health and lengthen your life.
Here are five sneaky ways to burn calories at work:
- Go for a quick walk
- Move through your lunch break
- Take the stairs to the restroom
- Complete a mini workout
- Do jumping jacks in the bathroom
4. Move While Working
You can also start moving more while working. For example, some offices allow desks with bikes or treadmills underneath so you can get a sweat on while typing, reviewing material or sending emails. If you work from home, you can create a good setup for your health and productivity.
Standing desks are also helpful because they allow you to move and fidget while working. Just make sure your motion doesn’t bother your colleagues if you’re in a communal office. However, there are several exercises you can do under or around your desk without drawing too much attention. Here’s a quick list of ideas:
- Do calf raises (seated or standing)
- Do leg extensions
- Stretch side to side
- Squeeze your abdominal muscles
- Stretch your arms overhead
Moving at work may be more difficult if you have an injury. However, there are still stretches and simple movements you can do at your desk or in the bathroom to burn calories. Try doing a standing shoulder row or arm raises if you have a torn rotator cuff. These movements shouldn’t attract much attention and will help you strengthen your injured shoulder.
Do you want to burn even more calories? Get up and walk around during phone calls. You can even go outside as long as you won’t need any of the material in your office. Take a notepad with you to write down any important information. Always take the stairs when you need to move between floors.
Finally, consider getting a ball chair for your office space. Sitting on a balance ball engages your core and helps you keep good posture during long days at work. Strong abs are essential for protecting your back, and using them will burn more calories than sitting in an ordinary office chair.
5. Choose the Hard Way
Modern offices have many conveniences that can reduce your daily calorie burn. For example, they offer parking garages, stairs and vending machines for a quick snack. Another strategy for burning more calories during the day is choosing to do things the hard way while at work.
Here are a few examples of how you can burn calories instead of taking the easy way:
- Walk or bike to work
- Park farther away from the office
- Take the stairs, not the elevator
- Leave your cash and credit cards at home
- Pack healthy snacks
Think about each element of your workday and find ways to burn more calories while doing it. For example, you could walk to another floor to use the restroom or print something. Don’t text or email colleagues who are there — get up and talk to them in person.
Remember that burning calories at work will take time and intentionality. If you need to be back at your desk in five minutes, the elevator may be the best option for getting to the bathroom. It’s important to balance focused work time with healthy breaks that get your body moving and blood flowing.
Research shows that taking frequent breaks can improve your productivity while at work. They strengthen your mental clarity so you make better decisions. They increase your creativity and help your brain stay focused and motivated until the end of the workday. Taking short breaks is an asset to your company if you’re intentional about it.
6. Hit the Gym
This tip isn’t technically something you can do at the office unless there’s a dedicated gym space in the building. However, the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggested that 30-40 minutes of exercise a day can help counterbalance the negative health effects of sitting for eight hours at the office.
Cardio burns more calories in the moment, but weight-training exercises increase muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn throughout your day, regardless of what you’re doing. That’s why working out several times a week is so helpful for losing weight — you’re turning your body into an efficient calorie-burning machine.
Plan to hit the gym right after work if you don’t like getting up early. You should have all your clothes and equipment packed in your car and ready to go. It’s all too easy just to go home and relax when you’re tired at the end of the day. However, a quick workout will reenergize you and provide a healthy separation between work and personal time.
There’s a lot you can do at the gym in 30 minutes. Here are a few ideas:
- Take a class (dance, barre, spin, Crossfit)
- Work up a sweat with the elliptical
- Follow a weightlifting routine
- Do 10 minutes of weights, 10 of cardio and 10 of ab exercises
- Hop on a treadmill for a gentle walk
Do you get hungry after your workout? Don’t forget to eat a post-workout snack. Your muscles deplete their glycogen stores during exercise — like how a car’s gas tank is empty after a long drive. Eating healthy carbs, fats and proteins soon after your workout can help your body recover and build new muscle faster.
7. Get Quality Sleep
Another sneaky way to burn calories during the workday is to get a good night’s sleep. Your body works to restore itself while you rest at night. It repairs tissues, refreshes your mind and regulates your blood sugar. Quality sleep also improves your ability to handle stress during the day.
Although a little tension can help you burn more calories, chronic stress will make you sick. Too much can lead to emotional eating or other unhealthy behaviors that can cause you to gain or lose too much weight. It wears down your immune system, mental health and physical well-being over time.
Sleep is an essential part of your routine if you’re trying to gain muscle mass. In fact, it’s so important that athletes are recommended to sleep nine hours instead of the typical seven to eight a night. Your body repairs torn muscles and secretes hormones that stimulate growth while you sleep.
What is your sleep routine like? You need to create a peaceful environment and form habits that set you up for a good night’s rest. For example, it’s usually not a good idea to drink caffeinated coffee right before bed. However, herbal tea can help you relax and fall asleep more easily.
Here’s how you can use sleep to sneakily enhance your calorie burn throughout the day:
- Go to bed at the same time every day
- Create a restful environment
- Plan to sleep for eight hours every night
- Sleep longer after a hard workout
- Form pre-bedtime habits
Find Your Fitness Routine
Working a 9-to-5 office job can be challenging for your health. Research shows that sitting for long periods increases your risk for many health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, strokes and depression. Quitting your job isn’t the answer, so you must find ways to cope.
There’s no perfect solution to this quandary, but there are several practical steps you can take to burn more calories and improve your health over your workday. Start with a consistent morning routine that gets your blood moving and jumpstarts your metabolism with a healthy breakfast.
Instead of sugary or fried foods, drink green tea and eat healthy meals that will help you burn calories. Take frequent breaks to move around, stretch and even complete mini workouts in the stairwell. Try using a standing desk or balance ball to increase your calorie burn while working.
Avoid conveniences and plan extra time to do things the hard way — whether parking further away, packing your own lunch or going upstairs when you need to use the bathroom. Incorporate a 30-40-minute workout into your day to offset the negative effects of sitting for eight hours.
Finally, don’t forget the value of a good night’s sleep. It will improve your ability to handle stress, stimulate muscle growth and regulate physical systems so you’re healthier regardless of where you work. Combining these daily habits into a personal fitness routine will help you burn more calories and become the healthiest version of yourself, even if you have a traditional 9-to-5 office job.