The Mental Benefits of Exercise — and 3 Desk Workouts You Can Try Now

Written by Bethany Johnson on January 9, 2017

Creative work can feel draining. Ask anyone who’s pushed to think outside the box (especially for a living!), and you’ll see you’re in good company. It takes a special kind of energy to sustain top-notch, imaginative output.

The good news is your physiological systems can supply increased circulation and a shot of creativity-boosting endorphins if you’re willing to move your bod a bit. Everyone knows there are physical advantages to working out, but the mental benefits of exercise may surprise you and take your freelance performance to the next level.

Here are three exercises you can totally do without leaving your home office or coworking space.

1. Stretch

Start with a few stretching exercises that target those muscles directly affected by the freelancer’s typical work session. Think upper back, shoulders and chest. Often, while you’re working, you don’t even know you’re mistreating them.

First, kneel down on the floor next to your chair and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Slowly arch your back, and imagine your spine touching the ceiling. Focus on the stretching muscles of your torso as you hold and count for 15 seconds, breathing slowly. Gently lower your back to neutral, and invert the pose by allowing your tummy to continue moving down toward the floor as you look up to the ceiling. This is one of the most well-known yoga stretches to relieve back pain from an otherwise sedentary work day.

Next, find a corner and stand facing it. Place your hands with one on each wall, palm-down at about the height of your head. Keeping your forearms steadily on the walls, use one foot to take a single step forward into a slight lunge. As you do, you’ll feel your chest muscles protesting just a bit. Hold for 20 seconds, then release.

Hunkering over a keyboard all day will do a number on your back and pectoral muscles, not to mention your working mood. Quickly relieve the tension and improve your outlook with these shoulder-opening exercises.

2. High Knees

Next, take a page out of the book from middle school gym class and get your heart moving with a burst of high knees. A little cardio can increase cellular production in the brain, improving overall mental performance, according to the International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health (something all freelancers can agree would benefit the biz).

Simply walk in place for one minute, then graduate to a jog in place for another minute. When you’re ready, kick it in and pull each knee up as high as you can between steps. A 15-minute session of alternating high knees and walking in place qualifies for a high-intensity interval, which puts you in a zone your gym rat buddies would applaud.

3. Toning

You may reap the mental benefits of exercise while working, but why not score some muscle-sculpting advantages while you’re at it?

First, rest your hands on your office chair’s armrests, and push down slightly. As you do, you’ll feel your seat rise up from the chair, relieving pressure there, and working your arms. Lower yourself again, and this time, focus on keeping your elbows in toward your sides to put more of the work on your muscles, not your joints. Work up to adding a few more reps each day. For extra resistance, cross your ankles and push your entire body up and out of the chair, legs and all.

Beat that afternoon slump. You know the one: Your brain feels fried, your eyes and shoulder muscles are fatigued and it’s too late in the day for more coffee. Work with your body to achieve that next burst of energy needed to take your work across the finish line, so you can clock out. There’s nothing like knowing you nailed another day of superior productivity, and daily desk workouts can make that happen.

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