Desk Stretches: How to Fix the Damage of Inactivity
We spend the majority of our days sitting. What exactly is it doing to our bodies, and can be combat it?
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I am not used to sitting. For almost 7 years, I worked in the service industry, where I would take about 15,000-25,000 steps a day. When I left the service industry, I moved into personal training and group fitness instructing. At that point, I was still getting 15,000-20,000 steps in a day. From about 5:30am to 8pm at night, I was on my feet, teaching classes or demonstrating exercises. Recently, I switched to working in an office, and the lifestyle is completely different. I spend 6-8 hours a day sitting overall. I do my best to break up my sitting and walk as much as I can. Luckily, we have standing desks where I work (Cheers to ergonomic work environments!). However, I’m still sitting… a heck of a lot more than I used to.
As a personal trainer, I saw many clients with low back pain, weak glutes, or postural deviations that are contributed to by chronic sitting. Not to mention, I saw a lot of people who struggled to lose weight that spent a lot of time sitting.
Is sitting the new smoking?
You may have heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”. A lot of Americans spend their days behind a computer screen at work, sit as they drive home, then sit on the couch and watch Netflix. In a nutshell, humans are sitting—a lot.
If you work in an office setting, you probably sit even more. Having a corporate job isn’t inherently bad, but it does mean you will probably spend the majority of your day on your bum. A recent study concluded that “about 1 in 4 Americans sit for more than 8 hours a day”. 8 hours may sound like a lot, but depending where you look online, you’ll find ranges anywhere from 6.5-10 hours.
Prolonged periods of sitting can lead to a number of health problems such as metabolic syndrome (conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes) and a reduced lifespan. In addition, sitting for a long time can also cause your musculoskeletal system to weaken, and lead to tight hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and an unstable core.
Thankfully, in recent years, there has been a movement to include more ergonomic chairs, keyboards and standing desks to make the office working experience better. However, most workers aren’t utilizing standing desks as much as they should and aren’t practicing great posture. So, it’s likely you’re still spending a large majority of your day in a compromised position, and you might find yourself stiff with low back pain and with other tight muscles.
The good news is, there’s something you can do about all of this. You can start by increasing your daily activity. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, is the energy that is expended that isn’t due to intense exercise, sleeping or eating. NEAT can be anything from moderate house cleaning, typing, yard work to walking to the grocery store. Here are a few tips for having a NEAT workday.
6 Ways you can incorporate more movement into your workday
- Shift from sitting to standing every 30 minutes.
- Walk frequently. Even if it’s just around the office. If you can, walk on your break or take small walking breaks.
- Take your meetings on the go!
- Park further from work.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Take a stretching break.
In addition to simply moving more often during the day, adding some office stretches into your day has many benefits. Mobility and flexibility work breaks up your prolonged periods of sitting and also combats the constant shortening of your muscles. Although office settings might seem awkward at first, hopefully, you work in a place where activity and employee well-being is encouraged. You might even start a trend in the office! If your boss doesn't support employee health, maybe it's time to move on.
Desk Stretches and Mobility Flow
Take a moment during the day or even during your lunch break to move a little. It doesn’t have to take a huge chunk of your time. The mobility and flexibility exercises below target the hips and thoracic spine, which are common points of tightness and stiffness for those who spend ample amounts of time at a desk. In addition, it stretches the hamstrings which tend to get inflexible from sitting. Mobility exercises create movement through joints, promoting control within a range of motion and also stretch your muscles.
- Cat/Cows 1-2 sets of 10
Get into a table top position. Place your palms underneath your shoulders, knees should be underneath the hips. Sync up your breathing with the movement. Inhale as you curve your spine up towards the ceiling and look toward the floor, and exhale as you slowly round and arch, look up towards the ceiling.
2. Quadruped T-Spine Opener 1-2 sets of 10
Staying in your tabletop position, take one hand and place it in the small of your back. Slowly open your shoulder up towards the ceiling and return back to your starting position.
3. Hip 90-90 Reaches 1-2 sets of 10
Adjust yourself to a seated position. Your front and back leg should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Try to square your hips in front of the front shin. Take a deep breath, and exhale reach over the knee that is bent. Inhale as you come back up. Repeat.
4. Plank to Downward Dog 1-2 sets of 10
Starting in a plank position with your palms just outside of the shoulders, press your hips up towards the ceiling and try to reach your heels towards the floor. Don’t FORCE them. If you need to, you can pedal your left and right leg.
5. Adductor Rockbacks 1-2 sets of 10
Return to your tabletop position. Kick one leg out laterally with your toes pointed forward. Take a deep breath, shifting your weight forward, then exhale and press back into your heels.
Message from the Think Save Retire Trainer
These are just a handful of the many mobility and flexibility exercises you could do throughout the work day. In addition to walking, standing more, and adding some mobility into your day, start an exercise regime. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. Movement is an incredible thing. Move more to live longer, have stronger bones, more mobile joints and live a healthy, happy life.
If your end goal is to be financially free and retired, eventually, you’ll have more free time to move throughout the day. However, the journey to financial independence requires working which means for now, you’re penciling in your movement wherever and whenever you can get it. Being able to stay active throughout your life—no matter what your daily environment may be—will improve your overall health, and aid you in the rest of your endeavors.