Fitness advice: How desk jockey office workers can combat the scourge of sitting, dubbed by some the 'new smoking'

Harry Thomas

Most of my clients spend the majority of their waking hours at work. This invariably means hours chained behind a desk with very little movement. Throw in relatively poor nutrition and you have a situation where your lifestyle can start to really affect your health.

Spread this scenario over many years and problems can grow exponentially, with the office becoming a breeding ground for diseases such as obesity, hypotension and depression. It can seem like a vicious circle: you sit at your desk eating bad food, so you put on weight, which makes you feel apathetic, preventing you from exercising in the little spare time you have...

But try not to despair: there are things you can change that will have a huge impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. Physical inactivity is one of the biggest culprits. “Sitting is the new smoking” is a phrase that’s started doing the rounds in health circles. Some people now use standing desks, and a few have gone even further with impractical “treadmill desks”. But there’s a problem: standing all day is just as bad as sitting, increasing your risk of oedema and blood clotting in the legs. Walking and staring at a screen all day can also affect your gait, which can cause problems down the line.


Unless you work for a sexy tech start-up, the food in your office kitchen probably consists of biscuits, cakes and assorted junk food. If you’re eating out with clients, you’re probably not going to be pecking at a salad, either: it will be a nice, juicy steak and a bottle of Malbec. Things have got even worse recently with the advent of services like Uber Eats and Deliveroo, making highly calorific food more accessible than ever.


Most people don’t drink enough water. The “eight glasses a day” recommendation is a myth, but people who are dehydrated perform far worse on many cognitive tests than those who are fully hydrated. Remember, contrary to popular opinion, caffeinated drinks will hydrate you, although not as well as a good old glass of water.

Repetition and posture

Using a keyboard and mouse can lead to all kinds of problems, from repetitive strain injury to arthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders. Being hunched over all day and travelling to work with a big rucksack can also impact your posture.

Screen Time

The average City worker spends 11 hours a day using digital devices, including computers, phones, iPads and TVs, and by 2020 the average worker will use six connected devices to access their work, all of which can increase your chances of eye strain, headaches, migraines and insomnia.

Mental Stress

Then, on top of all these physical maladies, there’s the mental stress of having a job in the City: long hours, differences of opinion, unhappiness about your career, high workloads, poor time management. These things all create anxiety, which can lead to depression. Every single one of my City clients has had some sort of work-based anxiety at one stage or another.

Awareness is the key to change. In order to tackle some of the above disruptors, you need to be aware of how they affect you. Ask yourself some questions about your working day: how long do you sit without getting up? How many calories per day are you consuming and what foods are you eating? How many litres of water per day do you have? How many hours of work do you do in a week? Do you enjoy your job? How do you sleep? Do you suffer from anxiety and what triggers it?

Once you have worked out the problem areas, you can start to make small changes. For every two hours’ work, have a break and move for 10 minutes. You could take a walk to the water fountain to hydrate yourself, killing two birds with one stone. The key is to create a habit of physical activity. Try setting a reminder when your next ‘walk break’ is due.

Nutrition is all about awareness, too. Track what you eat, right down to the sneaky biscuit you pinched from the kitchen. Enter them into a diet tracker app and you’ll see if you’re over-eating. Pay attention to alcohol consumption, too, as this can easily lead to over-consumption. In the longer term, try bringing in your own packed lunches and refraining from snacking throughout the day.


There’s a ridiculous thing called ‘office pilates’, which involves you doing crazy exercises at your desk. I don’t believe anybody actually does this. There are, however, little tricks that can help keep you supple and improve your posture. The most important thing for people sitting still for long periods of time is joint movement. There are lots of little movements you can do throughout the day, many of which involve simple rotations in your chair that will be all but invisible to your colleagues. Start by doing small circles with your neck, an area that holds a lot of tension. Also rotate your body left and right in your chair to help mobilise your thoracic. Your feet become inactive all day, which can lead to aches and pains all around the body; tension in your feet can lead to back pain, for instance. Find a small ball and roll it with the soles of your feet.

Mental Stress can be incapacitating at extreme levels, affecting many areas of your life and performance. Last week I spoke about the benefits of meditation which, along with better sleep, mindfulness and breathing techniques, can really help. Use apps like Calm, Insight Times and Headspace for an introduction to meditation. To start with, just take a few minutes away from your computer, close your eyes and just focus on your breathing. It seems so simple, but can be one of the most effective techniques for calming the mind.

To summarise, we all can do things to help improve our wellbeing. Pay attention to your own common disruptors, adopt a few of the strategies laid out above and reap the rewards.


• Harry Thomas is co-founder of City gym No.1 Fitness. He will be doing a series of corporate wellbeing talks and conferences throughout the year. Visit for more information.