Many white collar jobs today require logging in long hours of sitting at a desk, typing away at a computer. This is a standard expectation, even with extensive research pointing to the fact that a sedentary lifestyle is terrible for your health. It has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
What’s not talked about as often is the way sitting affects your posture and muscles. Sitting for prolonged periods of time tightens and weakens certain parts of your body, especially in the back and hips. This can cause headaches, back and hip pain, and ultimately make it harder to focus and stay productive. The good news, though, is that you can easily do something about it with some stretches and exercises.
I talked to a personal trainer to find out what happens to your body when you sit at a desk all day and what you can do to alleviate soreness. This is what he said:
Sitting at a desk can lead to upper cross syndrome, where you develop a rounded upper back and shoulder posture, and a forward head position. When you’re slouching this way, you over-activate your chest muscles and upper shoulder/neck muscles and they become tight. The mid-back, neck, and shoulder muscles that oppose this posture become under-active and weak.
This postural imbalance can cause shoulder pain and headaches, among other symptoms.
It’s important to stretch out the overactive muscles in the chest and upper back, and stimulate the under-active ones in the mid-back and shoulders. Here are some stretches and exercises to try at the end of the day, or while you’re at work.
1. Pec stretch – this stretches the chest muscles.
Place your hands on either side of a doorway; keep your elbows bent at 90°. Step forward, extending your arms until you feel a stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
3. Rows – this works the rhomboids, which bring your shoulder blades together.
You’ll need a Theraband for this. Attach it to a door, straightening your arms and standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Pull band back so your arms are at a 90° angle while pinching shoulder blades together. Do 12-15 reps.
Sitting all day can also result in lower cross syndrome. When you’re seated, the front of your hips and lower back become tight, while the glutes and abs are weakened. This imbalance causes the lower back to arch, and the pelvis to rotate downwards. Take a look at this diagram:
When your hip flexors and lower back muscles become tight, the opposing muscles, the glutes and abdominals, become under-active and can cause intense hip and lower back pain.
This is what you can do to stretch and strengthen your lower body:
Get in a kneeling position, push yourself forward so your front knee begins to bend and you feel a stretch in front area of the leg that is back. Hold for 15-30 seconds each side and repeat twice.
Lay down on your back with your knees bent. Squeeze your glutes together, push through your heels so your pelvis raises in the air. Pushing through your heels is key to activate the glutes. Do 12-15 reps twice.
3. Child’s pose – this stretches the lower back
Sit on your knees, place your arms in front of your body on the ground, sit back towards your heels until you feel your back stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds, repeat twice.
Sitting for an extended period of time is often necessary for getting your job done. If you can, consider investing in a yoga ball or standing desk to mix things up when you don’t feel like sitting in a chair. Remember to take quick breaks and walk around every hour. Standing up to get your blood flowing is a great energy boost when you’re starting to feel sluggish and unproductive. And after a day at the office, try some of these stretches and exercises to keep your body strong, active, and ready for another day of productive work.