As we spend most of our waking hours sitting at our desks, we must get creative about squeezing more movement into those hours. Going outside on your lunch break for a quick bike ride is one way to achieve this, but that isn’t always ideal. Another creative way to move more throughout the day? Cycling at your desk.

“We were meant to move, not sit all day,” says Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., certified strength and conditioning specialist, exercise physiologist, and author of The Micro Workout Plan. “Anything we can do to keep the blood flowing will provide significant health benefits,” he adds. This includes pedaling while you work.

The benefits of cycling at your desk go beyond incorporating movement into your day, without interrupting your work, and extend to improving your mental and physical wellbeing. Below, we have the research- and expert-backed info to outline exactly why you should pedal at your desk, plus how to get started.

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The Benefits of Cycling at Your Desk

There are perks to figuring out how to make cycling at your desk work for you. “It will increase blood flow to your muscles and brain, decrease stiffness, burn calories, improve your mood, and enhance concentration, to name a few of the potential benefits,” Holland says.

Here are five research-backed ways cycling while you work can change your life:

1. Improved Cardiovascular Fitness

      You don’t have to work out for long periods of time for exercise to have a positive effect on your health.

      Case in point: A small study published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine found that taking three short moderate-intensity exercise bouts (five to 10 minutes) every day led to similar improvements in cardiovascular fitness, compared to exercising at a moderate intensity for 30 to 60 minutes, three to five days per week.

      “My term is ‘excessive moderation,’” Holland says. “Don’t do a lot of exercise a little, do a little bit of exercise a lot.”

      2. Boosted Brain Power

      If you’re worried that cycling while typing might be too distracting, don’t be discouraged.

      In a small study published in PloS One, involving 23 participants, researchers compared office workers’ typing performance and reaction times while sitting in a chair and cycling at 30 percent of their maximum power output. They found that typing performance and short-term memory didn’t change once workers switched to the bike desk. Moreover, reaction times during a series of cognitive tests actually improved with cycling.

      However, some people may struggle to type and pedal simultaneously. If that rings true for you, consider cycling during phone calls, lectures, meetings, and tasks that require minimal typing.

      3. You Burn Calories

      Incorporating more movement into your workday can help increase your overall calorie burn.

      A review and meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics found that people who used bike and treadmill desks burned 198 to 450 calories during their work time, while their sedentary peers burned 59 to 191 calories.

      If weight loss or maintanence is your goal, cycling at your desk may help you achieve the calorie deficit you need, Holland says.

      4. Reduced Risk of Disease

      Getting short bursts of intense activity throughout the day may lower your risk of death by heart disease and cancer.

      In one study published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers analyzed activity data gathered via wearable devices worn by more than 25,000 people. After an average follow-up of 6.9 years, researchers discovered that people who engaged in three brief bursts of just one to two minutes of vigorous-intensity activity daily showed a 38 to 40 percent reduction in all-cause and cancer mortality risk and a 48 to 49 percent reduction in heart disease mortality risk.

      5. Enhanced Mood

      Numerous studies show that exercise can boost mood. It works in many ways, from reducing anxiety and depression, to improving self-esteem and brain function, Holland says.

      Plus, it doesn’t take long to see improvements. In a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, hospitalized patients with mental health disorders reported a mood lift after a single exercise bout.

      Ultimately, cycling at your desk can help improve your overall health. But remember, it’s still important to get your steps in. “While cycling is great, walking takes the hips, knees, and ankles through different ranges of motion, which can help them stay looser and healthier,” says Alex Tauberg, D.C., C.S.C.S., an avid cyclist and sports chiropractor.

      How to Start Cycling at Your Desk

      When it comes to cycling at your desk, you have two options:

      »Buy an under-desk pedal machine. This compact machine easily fits under your desk and its designed means you can use it while you sit in a chair. Though an under-desk pedal machine won’t activate your muscles to the same extent as an indoor bike, it tends to be easier to set up and use at your desk, says cycling instructor and certified personal trainer, Katie Pierson. Another benefit: An under-desk pedal machine tends to be more discreet than indoor bike workstations, so you can pedal while you work from home or the office with ease.

      »Set up a workstation on your indoor bike. Find an adjustable-height desk that fits over (or right next to) your indoor bike, so you can cycle and work simultaneously. There are some desks, like this Saris TD1 Trainer, that are specifically designed for indoor bikes. The trainer desk is a great option for people who work from home, though it may be tricky to type while you pedal. Holland saves his trainer desk set-up for Zoom calls and online classes when he doesn’t have to turn on his camera.

      Ultimately, the best option is the one that works for you, Holland says. Experiment with different approaches until you find something you can stick with for the long-term.

      The bottom line on cycling at your desk

      Whether you cycle at your desk discreetly, or with an indoor bike station at home, incorporating bursts of cycling into your workday can build cardiovascular fitness, lift mood, burn calories, boost brain power, and lower disease risk. This way you can maintain a seamless work schedule that truly benefits you.

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      Lauren Bedosky

      Lauren Bedosky is a freelance health and fitness writer who specializes in covering running and strength training topics. She writes for a variety of national publications, including Runner’s WorldPrevention, Experience Life and Women’s Running.