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Desk Exercises for an Instant Energy Boost

These simple strategies will transform you from computer zombie to maximum vitality in less than a minute.

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It’s 3 p.m., you’re sitting at your desk, and your eyelids are slowly … getting … heavier. Before you grab that latte or start scrolling through Instagram out of boredom, consider this: Plenty of little changes can help you head off sluggishness at the pass, crank up your focus, and boost energy—and many of them take less than a minute.


Boost Energy: Straighten Your Spine

In a 2018 San Francisco State University study, 125 college students were asked to subtract 7 from 843 sequentially for 15 seconds while either sitting up straight with their shoulders back and relaxed or while slumped over. Fifty-six percent of the students reported it was easier to perform the math while in the erect position.

“The slumped-over position is a defensive posture that hinders abstract thinking,” says study co-author Erik Peper, PhD, professor of holistic health at San Francisco State University. “Think about it from an evolutionary perspective: A tiger is coming at you, so you curl up to protect yourself. You don’t care about the future or the past, just the present. When you’re in a slumped over or slouchy position at your desk, it essentially shuts the brain down so you can’t think as clearly.”

Peper says math is a metaphor for any cognitive activity, regardless of whether you’re a web developer, teacher, doctor, musician, or public speaker. Try a few of his suggestions for improving your posture—and thus your performance—at work:

  • Ask a colleague or friend to snap a sideways picture of you when you’re not expecting it. This will give you an unbiased view of your work posture.
  • Set an alarm on your phone, watch, or computer to go off every 15 to 20 minutes. When it sounds, get up and move your body in some way: Take a short walk or march, skip, or dance in place. Previous research conducted by Peper found that skipping significantly increased students’ energy levels after sitting in a long lecture.
  • Have your vision professionally checked. Many instances of poor posture are the result of people leaning in toward their computer screen because they can’t see well.
  • Working on a laptop? You’re almost surely collapsing your posture, bringing your head down to see the screen. A simple fix: Buy a detachable keyboard and raise your laptop on a riser or some thick books.

Boost Energy: Fit in a Mini Yoga Session

The more muscle mass you have, the more energetic you’ll feel, says Mark Moyad, MD, MPH, who is the Jenkins/Pomkempner Director of Preventive and Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan. “Even a 1% increase in muscle mass will give you a metabolic increase, and that translates to more energy.”

Moyad does pushups to break free of a desk rut. Lunges and squats will work too. Or try this desk-friendly vinyasa sequence designed by Katy Hanlon, a yoga instructor at Studio Three Yoga in Chicago. The poses stimulate energy and focus, and your body is all the weight you need to build muscle mass:

Seated Tadasana with Cactus Arms

  • Sit up tall and ignite your abdominals, stacking your head directly over your torso.
  • Keeping a soft bend in your elbows, extend your arms above your head. Palms should be facing out, fingers spreading wide, and wrists aligning over your shoulders.
  • Inhale through your nose, reaching high with your hands without shrugging your shoulders to your ears.
  • Exhale through your nose and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbows out to the sides until your upper arms are at shoulder height, creating “cactus” arms. Lift your heart toward the ceiling and, if you have no neck issues, release your head back slightly.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Related: How Yoga Provides a Natural Energy Boost



Boost Energy: Move Your Lymph

“Increasing energy is all about improving lymphatic flow,” says postural alignment specialist Brian Bradley, vice president of Egoscue. The lymphatic system consists of the spleen, thymus, tonsils, and adenoids, as well as multiple channels and nodes throughout the body. While it plays a role in protecting you against infection and disease, it also contributes to our energy levels.

“Lymph travels through the joints in your body—your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles,” Bradley explains. “When you drive to work, sit at a desk all day, drive home, and relax on the couch, you’re not moving your joints through their full range of motion and, as a result, lymph becomes trapped and grows stagnant.”

Bradley recommends moves that re-align your joints to get your energy flowing again, such as the Overhead Extension:

  • Stand with your feet pointing straight ahead and about one fist’s width apart.
  • Extend your arms in front of you, drop your shoulders, interlace your palms, and point them away from you.
  • Bring both arms overhead so your palms face the sky. Gaze upward toward your hands as you actively work to keep your arms straight up without leaning back.
  • Hold for 30 seconds as you breathe deeply.

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In the Ashtanga yoga practice we typically teach students to interlace the fingers and open the palms of the hands so that the back of the head can be cupped by the palms. This allows more control over the tripod position and extension through the shoulders. There should be almost no weight on the top of the head. The majority of your body’s weight is balanced by the base of the arms and shoulders.
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