Most health experts argue that sitting for more than 3-4 hours a day is detrimental to your health. It can lead to an increase in heart disease, arthritis, and obesity, and it can speed up ageing, and cause muscular tightness and postural issues.
Unfortunately, sitting is something most of us can’t get away from in our everyday work life.
The good news is that there are some simple daily habits and stretches that can help your body withstand the pressure of a long day of sitting. By stretching the muscles most affected by your seated posture, you can release the muscle tension that develops from sitting and start to reduce the chance of other more severe health risks.
How do you counteract sitting all day?
The best way to counteract the effects of sitting all day is to identify which muscles are under the most strain, and then consider how to stretch and strengthen those muscle groups.
A lot of people believe that putting in an hour of gym at the end of the day is enough, but putting your body through rigorous exercise after being in a resting position for an extended period of time is more likely to cause injury or damage. Still go to the gym and train, but make sure your body is getting the stretch and movement it needs during work hours as well. Sitting all day will leave your muscles cold and stiff, so make sure you always start out slow and gentle and don’t push yourself too hard. Stretching should feel good as you get into the deep muscles, so if you feel straining, ease up.
While you are stretching you should also be taking deep breaths, slowly inhaling and exhaling. The increased oxygen will help your muscles as well as relaxing and refocusing your mind.
There are plenty of stretches you can do while sitting at your desk or taking a coffee break, and with regular active breaks your productivity will improve too.
What stretches to do sitting all day?
Any stretches that you use to help combat physical fatigue from sitting should target the muscles that are most at risk.
- Spine stabilising muscles (or core)
Your core includes some of the biggest muscle groups, including muscles around your abdomen, down your sides, and even into your glutes. Core muscles are responsible for holding your spine and supporting your organs so make sure you strengthen these muscles with exercises like planking and push-ups, but also give them a deep stretch when you’re stuck at your desk.
How to stretch it:
Perform a simple seated spinal rotation while sitting by holding opposite shoulders and rotating your torso at the waist, turning as far as feels comfortable. Hold for 10 seconds then release and switch sides.
Do Sitting back extensions by sitting straight with your feet together and your palms placed firmly in the small of your back. Exhale while you lean back over your hands and hold for a few seconds before straightening your spine.
Your trapezius is the fan shaped muscle along the sides of your neck and down your shoulders and upper back. It is responsible for arm support and movement as well as neck support and is usually the muscle most people feel pain in if they sit at a computer all day. When you sit at a computer you tend to angle your neck down and sit with one arm slightly further forward and more tense.
How to stretch it:
Complete some neck rotations. Keeping your back straight gently tilt your head forwards and then backwards, feeling the stretch both directions. Do this a few times and then turn your head from side to side, trying to move your head past your shoulder as you do. You should feel this in your neck and slightly down your back and shoulders.
Shoulder rolls help to ease tension in your shoulders. Sit up straight and roll your shoulders backwards in large, slow movements, concentrating on pulling your shoulder blades towards each other. Repeat 5-10 times.
Your pectoral muscles stretch across either side of your chest and are responsible for much of your arm movement as well as helping your posture to alleviate stress on your neck and back. Most people have bad posture when they sit causing them to hunch over a bit and shorten the pectoral muscles.
How to stretch it:
Do the chest opener to stretch the pectorals and take strain off your shoulders, neck, and back.
While standing or sitting straight with space behind your back, clasp your hands behind your back, lacing your fingers if possible. Straighten your arms and lift them slightly until you feel the stretch in your chest. Hold it for 10-30 seconds. Avoid this stretch if you have shoulder problems or injuries.
- Hip Flexors
When you sit all day your legs stay bent and the muscles in your hips – your hip flexors – shorten. If you don’t help to lengthen those muscles back out they can pull on your pelvis and lead to lower back strain.
How to stretch it:
You’ll need to stand to do the standing hip flexor stretch, but it’s a good excuse to get away from your desk for a couple of minutes. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, but with one foot further forward than the other. Keep both feet planted firmly while you bend both knees and press your hips forward until you feel the stretch in your hips. Hold it for 15 seconds, relax, and do a couple repetitions before swapping legs.
How often should you stretch when working at a desk?
Current trends in medical research suggest you should get up from your desk at least every 30 minutes to reduce eye strain, alleviate wrist and joint pain, and give blood circulation a boost. You don’t need to be stretching every time you get up though.
Most medical professionals recommend doing stretches every 2 hours if you are stationary at a desk. That means most people can get away with a few stretches at morning break, lunch, and an afternoon break.
Take as much time as you can to stretch knowing that it is good for your body, your health, and your mind.