Occupational Therapy - Keeping Fit at Work

Occupational -Therapy

Simple physical exercises you can do at your desk to keep your body fit and flexible.

Hands up who reckons they have never felt physical discomfort as a result of their desk job? Yoga teacher and occupational therapist Cate Peterson says that in 20 years of teaching yoga, no-one has ever put their hand up, but she says it doesn't have to be so. Here she shows you how to end the day feeling like you are in better shape than when you started it, without even leaving your office.

In the beginning you may find you have to set a timer on your computer to remind yourself to regularly undertake these simple, stress busting actions.

Develop a playground for your feet

Feet have all sorts of nerve endings that get little or no stimulus stuck in work shoes from dawn to dusk. Keeping your feet awake will keep the rest of you awake. If you are lucky enough to have a workplace that welcomes weirdness then take a trip to the beach and bring back a plastic basin filled with sand. Place it under your desk with a large sheet of sandpaper (your choice of grade), a spiky plastic massage ball, even a foot spa. This list is limited only by your imagination. Take your shoes off under your desk and let them explore your playground while you work. And imagine how much better you'll feel after a short foot spa break than a coffee break!

Exercise your eyes

There is a direct link from your eyeballs to your brain. Focussing on the 15 inches of screen in front of you says quite clearly to the brain 'I must be stressed because I have to focus all my attention on this one task hour after hour.'

Looking up and consciously expanding your peripheral vision will instantly calm your brain. Position your index fingers in front of your nose, and track the movement of the fingers with your eyes as you slowly draw the fingers apart. See if you can develop your peripheral vision by fully relaxing the eye muscles. Draw your fingers back to the tip of your nose and feel your eyes cross. Repeat every few hours to strengthen your eye muscles and relax your brain.

Sitting position and back care

All day long, try to imagine you have a string pulling you up from the top of your head. As you breathe in, feel this upward pull lengthen your spine. As you breathe out feel the belly pull back towards your backbone and the base of your spine pull down into your chair. You will feel your tail bone tuck (if you let it poke out your back will be obviously curved - not good). Keeping your back strong and stretched will create space for your lungs and digestive organs to function fully and prevent back injury from chronically poor posture.

While we are focussed on the back, one of the best investments you can make is a Swiss Ball. They come in 3 sizes and you'll need one appropriate to you and your desk. Simply swapping the ball for your chair for 20 minutes in each hour to work on core muscles, will prevent lower back stagnation and increase blood flow to your lower limbs.


Of course you already do, however, statistics show that most people at a desk are using just two-fifths of their lungs. A deeper, slower breathing cycle will keep you feel mentally relaxed. Try to do the following deep breathing exercise 10 times a day for 10 breaths until deep breathing becomes habitual.

Whole body breathing is when you are aware of your belly expanding to fully draw air to the bottom of your lungs, then when you exhale your belly pulls back towards your backbone to squeeze all the air out. Remain with no air in the body for as long as comfortable and notice all your belly muscles pulling in and being activated until you need to release and breathe in. If you can practice making each cycle of inhalation and exhalation longer by utilising your belly muscles, you will really help to oxygenate your body and keep your digestive system healthy.

Your Poor Neck and Shoulders

Neck stretches will help with stiff necks and achy shoulders, as well as increasing blood flow to your head to make you more alert. Better still, neck stretches help to minimise wrinkles. Complete these stretches once before starting work and once after finishing.

We need to stretch our necks through three planes of action during this exercise: 'yes' (a nod), 'no' (looking over one shoulder then the next) and 'maybe' (ear to either shoulder), which done consciously equates with moving our head in six directions.

Starting from upright, breathe out fully as you slowly move your chin to your chest.

Breathing in, bring your head slowly back to upright and pull up through the crown of your head.

Next, breathe out slowly as you allow your head to fall backwards, opening your mouth as you do so.

Breathe in and bring head to upright.

Now do the same slow breathing as you look over one shoulder. Repeat for the other side.

Finally, bring your ear to one shoulder, bring your head back to centre, and then drop on the other side.

Now repeat all six movements (moving your head on the out-breathe for each) but use your own hands to resist so the muscles have to work. For the third and final round, use your hands to assist each of the movements.

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