Sitting is the new smoking, we’re often told. It not only takes a toll on our joints and backs, sitting has been linked to heart problems, weight gain and early death. And even if we exercise 30 minutes a day, it may not be enough to offset the risks of sitting, research has found.

But what’s an office worker to do? Prolonged sitting is simply a fact of life: we sit for eight hours on the job, then sit again on our commutes, then sit again at home. But Toronto-based sports and rehab chiropractor Sapna Sriram told CTV’s Canada AM this week there are a few ways office workers can stay active even if they’re chained to a desk.

1. If you have to sit, do it right

The first tip for office workers is to set up an ergonomically sound workstation, with the chair set in the right position.

“When you’re sitting at your desk you want to make sure your thighs are parallel with the floor, your knees are at 90 degrees and you’re sitting all the way back in your chair,” Sriram said.

Your feet should be flat on the floor in this position, not tucked under your chair, so if they’re not, use a footrest so your feet don’t dangle.

Adjust the height of your seat back to ensure the lumbar support of the chair is in the small of your lower back, to support the curve in your spine.

Avoid the "poking chin" posture of leaning forward to read your monitor, as this causes tension in the neck and shoulders. If you find yourself doing this a lot, you may be having trouble reading the screen. Move the monitor closer, or increase the font size of your documents. (Hint: To increase the font size on webpages, press Ctrl and the + sign.)

2. Reset often

Sriram says we should try to not sit any longer than 45 to 60 minutes at a time, so if you have trouble remembering to get up and move, set an alarm on your desk or phone.

Since it’s easy to slip back into old habits of slouching, find ways of reminding yourself to reset your posture. Sriram offers this simple trick to help you reset regularly: turn your palms up.

“By turning your palms up, you’ll automatically go from a slouched posture to an upright one,” she said.

This simple move forces you to roll your shoulders back, which automatically lifts the neck and makes you straighten up. She advises reminding yourself to turn your palms up regular intervals, such as whenever you take a call.

“There’s no excuses and your body will be so happy,” she said.

3. ‘Deskercise’ discreetly

Sure, there are lots ways to exercise in an office, but if you’re in an open-concept space, it can feel odd doing desk pushups and squats with everyone watching. Instead, find subtle to ways to move and activate your muscles without causing a scene.

One simple move is to straighten your arms in front of you, do a big yawn over your head and then stretch your arms to each sides. Next, with your arms still outstretched, bend over, lift your toes and keep your heels on the ground to do a hamstring and calf stretch. To stretch out tired wrists, move to the edge of your chair, straighten out your arms, flex your hands and stretch out your wrists. Then begin to slowly rotate your trunk to activate your shoulders and chest.

“For people who complain about aching wrists or who say they have numbness and tingling and get carpal tunnel syndrome, this is a great exercise you can do,” says Sriram.

Other subtle desk exercises include seated calf raises in which you simply lift your heels keeping your toes on the floor; chin tucks to stretch out the neck, and shoulder shrugs. To work your legs, just get up and sit back down a few times, Sriram advises.

“You’ll be activating your glutes, your back, your core. And you’re waking up the muscles that don’t get active during the day,” she says.

4. Incorporate more movement into your day

Desk exercises are great, but what’s even better is incorporating standing and movement into your work day.

Last year, British public health experts issued recommendations saying that all office workers should stand or walk for at least two hours a day, to help ward off the dangers of prolonged sitting.

Standing for hours isn’t great for your muscles or back either, so find a way to do a little of each all day -- sit while typing, but stand while taking calls, for example.

Dr. Mike Evans, a physician at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and the founder of the Evans Health Lab has long called for “making your day harder” by changing up your routines to add more exercise.

Incorporate movement into your workday by:

  • walking down the hall to speak to a colleague instead of emailing them
  • keeping your lunch and snacks in the kitchen so you have to walk to get them
  • taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • walking on all escalators, rather than standing
  • choosing the furthest parking spot if you drive to work
  • getting off one stop early if you take transit