“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”—Edward Stanley

Most Americans spend an average of 10 hours a day in a car, at a desk or in front of a screen. The other sad truth is that your body wasn’t designed to sit for long periods of time, and doing so can lower your life expectancy and put you at an 80% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. You’ve heard it until you might be sick of it, but the fact is that physical exercise is powerful medicine against stress. But as many as 40% of Americans—who prefer sitting on their duff to exercising—follow the advice of comedian Joan Rivers, who said, “I don’t exercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, He would’ve put diamonds on the floor.”

Don’t Park It For Too Long

Okay, I admit it. Working out sucks. There I said it, but let’s look at the alternatives. Mounting evidence shows conclusively that sitting too much is one of the biggest health stressors. Prolonged sitting reduces blood and oxygen flow, causes weight gain, and leads to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Studies show that being a desk potato is as bad or worse than smoking and actually cuts your life expectancy—not to mention that it truncates your career success and trajectory.

According to an American Cancer Society study, women who sat more than six hours per day were 34% more likely to die than those who were more active. The same figure for men was 18%. On the flipside, the American College of Sports Medicine reports that workers who exercise a minimum of 45 minutes a week take 25 to 50% fewer sick days. And British scientists report that middle-agers who exercise at least twice a week are 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than couch potatoes. So something’s working here.

Chances are you spend an inordinate amount of time chained to your desk. Windowless cubicles and airless open-floor plans can take a toll on job performance and overall work health. If you don’t have time to get to the gym for a rigorous workout, you can practice gentle forms of exercise between appointments at your desk to help you chill and enhance your mental clarity, physical strength and flexibility.

Move and Stretch At Your Desk

Just moving around can cut your risk of sudden cardiac arrest by 92%. Plus, when you get moving, physical tension and mental stress melt away, and the solution to a mulled-over problem becomes crystal clear. Experts say just being on your feet at your desk instead of sitting can help. Simply not sitting gives you the benefits of exercise. Stand up, breathe deeply, shake, twist and stretch out the built-up tension. Take a few seconds to reach high. Let yourself feel the stretch as you elongate your body and notice where you hold tension then release it. Shake the part of your body where you sense tension. As you continue to stretch, bring your attention to each part of your body that has remained tight. Bend over and touch your toes and feel that stretch letting the tension in your body evaporate. Consider taking short five-minute strolls outside on a nice day or up and down a flight of stairs in bad weather.

Try Chair Yoga

Practice chair yoga between meetings right at your desk. Sit in your chair and inhale and raise your arms toward the ceiling. Let your shoulder blades slide down your back as you reach upward with your fingertips. Anchor your sit bones in your seat and reach up from there. Place your left hand over your right knee and right arm on back of the chair. Stretch lightly for 60 seconds. Place your right hand over your left knee with left arm on back of the chair for another 60 seconds. After three to five minutes you will notice a renewed energy and mental clarity then you’re ready to get back in the game.

Practice Conscious Deep Breathing

The human body discharges 70% of its toxins through breathing. If your breathing isn’t operating at peak efficiency, you’re not ridding yourself of toxins. Conscious deep breathing puts life back into your body, helps conquer daily strains on the job and salves your soul. Notice your breathing right now. Is it coming from high in your chest or deep in your abdomen? Is it fast or slow? When you take conscious deep breaths, you can’t get as worked up over last-minute deadlines or missed appointments. Breathe deeply throughout the workday because your body can’t maintain the same level of stress with the extra oxygen in your bloodstream when you breathe from your abdomen.

Meditate for One Minute

Meditating or contemplating at your desk for just 60 seconds helps you unwind, clears your head and raises your energy level. Open awareness meditation is restorative in body, mind and spirit. Sitting at your desk identify as many sounds around you as you can. You might notice the heating or air conditioning system, traffic off in the distance, voices from other offices, ticking of a clock or the gurgling of your own stomach. After one minute, bring your attention inside. You might notice that your heart and respiration rates are slower and your tight muscles have loosened because you took yourself off the red alert of your thinking mind and brought it into the present moment, activating your rest and digest response.

Yawn Yourself To Calm

Some Neuroscientists believe that you can yawn yourself to calm and advocate that yawning be a part of any stress reduction program. Much like meditation, yawning lowers stress by putting you in a deep state of relaxation. It acts like an air conditioner for your brain by putting more oxygen into your lungs and cooling down your neurological system. It’s an emotional discharge that calms your body, sending the message that your system is powering down. So before the next stressful meeting, performance review or speech, yawn intentionally as many times as you can until you start to feel more relaxed and ready to brace the challenge.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: https://bryanrobinsonphd.com.