That pain in your neck might be the stress of the encroaching holidays -- or it could be the strain of sitting (or standing) still all day at work. And as it turns out, your neck isn't the only thing that sitting can hurt: according to a variety of recent studies, including a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, too much time spent sitting is also linked to heart disease, diabetes and even early death. If you're the type who likes to spend a lot of time catching up with family and friends, the holidays may generate even more sitting around -- so make sure you fight back with these four easy desk exercises that help you get moving and stay active, pain-free, and flexible.
Gentle Hamstring Stretches
Spending a lot of time in a chair or standing can lead to tight hamstrings. Ease the pain with this gentle standing stretch:
- Extend one leg straight in front of you and lean slightly forward from the hips. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings at the back of your thigh, but don't force it too hard. Hold for at least 15 seconds.
- When you're ready, intensify the stretch by propping your foot on a low footstool or box of files. The more flexible you get, the higher you can hold your leg as you stretch.
Gentle Back Stretches
If your hamstrings are tight, your lower back muscles are probably tight too. Take a few minutes to do a modified cat/cow stretch at your desk:
- Sit up straight, pulling your belly button in toward your spine and tucking your chin back as previously described.
- Carefully lean forward, rounding your spine one vertebrae at a time; you should feel a gentle stretch in your lower back. You can support yourself with your arms on the chair, or by leaning over a small inflatable playground ball.
- Hold this position for several breaths before returning to step one.
Seated Back Rows
Many desk workers develop forward-slumping shoulders; combat that "desk posture" by stashing elastic exercise tubing in a desk drawer and pulling it out two or three times a day for seated back rows:
- Extend both legs forward and down toward the floor, feet flexed at the ankle.
- Hold the exercise tubing by the ends and loop the middle under the arches of your feet.
- Hinge forward slightly from the hips, keeping your back flat, shoulders back and down. Extend your arms straight out in front of you and adjust your grip until you feel mild tension in the tubing.
- Pull back on the tubing, keeping your elbows close to the sides of your body. Focus on pinching your shoulder blades down and together through the movement. This completes one repetition; work up to 15.
Move at Your Desk
If you're lucky enough to have access to a standing desk, you can also use a motion deck to squeeze in a little extra exercise as you work. According to research done by the Mayo Clinic, standing on your FluidStance deck at your desk expends up to 19.2% more energy than just sitting. In other words, you're burning 19.2% more calories. FluidStance decks allow for more movement throughout the day and recruit your core muscles to help counteract the inherent instability of the motion platform.
If you don't have a standing desk, try swapping out your chair in favor of an inflatable exercise ball; you'll still torch more calories, work your core, and burn off a little bit of that holiday stress without ever going off the clock.
Taking short movement breaks every 30 minutes is key. Here are some more ideas:
- Do jumping jacks at your desk (or in an unused conference room if you want privacy!).
- Get up and walk over to a coworker to talk to them vs. sending them an email.
- Run through some simple yoga poses at your desk.
- Add stretches to we've suggested above; for example, stretch your upper body by clasping your hands over your head, palms facing out, and stretch up and hold for 10-30 seconds. This can be done whether you're seated or standing.
- Take a quick walk around the block. Besides getting you moving, it's a great way to clear your head and reconnect with the world outside your office.
What keeps you moving at work? Comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.