Stretching For Your Health – How To Combat Sitting Down
For the vast majority of us, we work sitting down. We work at computers all day long typing, clicking and staring at screens. Couple this with a poor desk setup and lack of stretching those poor muscles are going to have a lot of issues with poor posture, aches and pains.
There are two instantly recognisable downsides to too much time spent sat at a desk: shoulder pain and lower back pain.
With the shoulders this is normally at the front, often a pinching sensation is caused by all the typing, mouse work, and writing we do that is in front of us which causes our chest to get tight and, over time, leads to rounded shoulders and poor posture, also effecting our neck and head.
With lower back pain it’s often caused by spending too much time sitting down and not engaging our core. If our core gets weak, we will feel discomfort and pain throughout our spine/back area. Also, sitting down for long periods causes our hips to tighten from being in a shortened state. That causes our pelvis to tilt and affect our lower spine.
But the issues could be a lot worse. The link between illness and sitting first emerged in the 1950s, when researchers found London bus drivers were twice as likely to have heart attacks as their bus conductor colleagues.
Since then there has been an explosion of research on how damaging sitting can be.
According to NHS UK It is thought excessive sitting slows the metabolism – which affects our ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and metabolise fat – and may cause weaker muscles and bones.
Now we’re busy people, we have work to do after all, but you’ll be no use to anyone if you’re off sick or can’t concentrate because of the pain, aches or other illnesses from leading a sedentary lifestyle.
The main tips from the NHS for sitting at your desk are to:
- Support your back
- Adjust your chair
- Rest your feet on the floor
- Place your screen at eye level
- Have the keyboard straight in front of you
- Keep your mouse close
- Avoid screen reflection
- Avoid wearing bifocals
- Make objects easy to reach
- Avoid phone strain
- Take regular breaks
For those looking for a more visual aspect this video should help make sure you get the perfect setup for your day to day.
This is all prevention rather than cure, so if you’re looking for something to counteract some of the aches and pains you’re feeling we talked with Daniel Steven of The Executive Health Coach to ask what stretches you can do, at your desk, to help combat all those hours of sitting.
So, here are 6 great stretches you can do at your desk, your body will thank you.
1. Lunge / Hip stretch.
Your hips are the connective powerhouse between your back and your legs. They act as the support system for your lower back and thighs. Having tight hips from sitting down too long is something that is actually a huge cause of lower back pain.
So, this stretch is great for not only getting the blood flowing through your legs but giving your hips some stretch and mobility so that they can better look after your lower back.
You are going to stand up straight and then take a deep lung forward, holding onto a chair for balance. Then push the hips forward until you feel a stretch from the front of your hip to your thigh.
When you feel the stretch hold it for about 20-30 seconds. Don’t “bounce” or rock in this position but hold it steady with a comfortable pressure.
Slowly stand back up and then repeat on the other leg.
2. Seated Hamstring Stretch.
You’ve probably heard about hamstrings but might not know what they are exactly. Basically, they are one of three major muscles in the back of your thigh. Being in a seated position can affect these muscles as they are the contact point between your leg and the chair.
For this stretch, you’re going to want to sit with you back straight near the edge of the chair (be careful if it’s an office chair with rollers).
Keep the feet flat on the floor with your knees at 90-degree angles.
Extend and straighten your right leg with the heel on the floor and toes pointing toward the ceiling.
Then slowly lean forward at the hip, keeping your back straight until you feel the stretch in the back of your thighs. You can place your hands on your left leg for support.
Exactly like the hip stretch hold it for 20–30 seconds with no bouncing and a comfortable pressure.
Repeat two to four times with each leg for maximum stretch and recovery.
3. Glute Stretch
Your bum (or glutes as the professionals call it) is what’s stuck in the chair and boy does this set of muscles take a hammering.
If you squeeze your glutes right now you may feel your whole lower back and possibly even your thighs tense up. All of this interconnectivity is what being seated effects the most, so let’s take a solution straight to the source. This stretch is an amazing 2 for 1 as it will also help stretch out your hips at the same time.
Sit upright in your chair and place your right ankle on your left thigh, just above your knee. Place your hands on your shins or on your right knee.
Keeping your back straight, lean forward and gently push down on your shins/knee to deepen the stretch. Don’t bounce or push too hard, you want a comfortable pressure and stretch. Never do this to the point of pain.
You should feel this not only in your glutes but across all of your hips.
Same as before holding it for 20–30 seconds and then swap legs.
Repeat two to four times with each leg for maximum stretch and recovery.
4. Side / Lower Back Stretch
If you’re anything like me, your lower back feels like it’s taken a beating from Muhammed Ali by the end of the day.
So, you’re going to want to stretch this area thoroughly. As you know, your spine runs from the base of your head all the way down to the bottom of your hips. Alongside each side of the spine there are muscles helping support it and act as shock absorbers for all the twisting, leaning and damage of the day.
When you’re seated these muscles are shortened for long periods of time. Meaning they feel tight as soon as you try and move them and stretch them.
So, this stretch focuses on the sides of your lower back as well as the sides of your abs.
Sit in a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor or stand with feet hip width apart.
Lean forward slightly to keep from “hunching” your back and shoulders.
Keep your hips, shoulders, and ears in a straight up-and-down line.
Raise your right arm overhead and bend your upper body to the left in a reaching motion. Keep your upper body facing straight ahead—don’t twist it to the side as you bend.
Make sure you feel the muscles gently stretch all along your side from your lower back up to your shoulder.
Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Return to the starting position. Repeat the stretch 2 times.
Switch sides and do the stretch in the opposite direction. Repeat twice.
5. Twisted stretch
This again focuses on your lower spine, this time stretching it in a twisting motion. This will help revive some mobility in that area. Be careful though. We are dealing with the spine so be gentle in doing this stretch and remember it should be a comfortable pressure you feel throughout the movement.
Sit up toward the front of a sturdy chair with armrests and a back. Stay as straight as possible. Keep your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
Slowly twist your torso to the left from your waist without moving your hips. Turn your head to the left as you do this. You can use your hands to hold on to the left arm of the chair, or for a deep stretch (and only if you’re capable) hold onto the back of the chair. Remember that this stretch should be gentle and provide a comfortable pressure.
After holding the position for 15-30 seconds slowly twist back to centre. Then you can repeat it on the opposite side. Do this movement 3 times and you should feel a good stretch and a good range of motion in your lower back.
6. Shoulder stretch
We’ve spent so long focusing on the lower back and hips, now its time for the shoulders. Not properly setting up your desk (see the earlier video) can lead to a pinching feeling in between your shoulders, slouched posture and general ache across the whole shoulder area.
Move yourself to the front of the chair and with a straight back place your arms behind you. You can either hold onto the sides of the chair or lace your fingers behind you. Straighten your back and your arms and gently try to pull back your shoulder blades back like you’re trying to make them touch. You should feel this stretch all along the front of your chest and across the front of your shoulders.
This acts as the counter position for when you are typing (i.e. shoulders pulled forward and chest muscles shortened).
Again, hold this for 15 to 30 seconds then gently release and rest. If you want to repeat this again you can but like always no bouncing or harsh pressure.
Now Breathe and Relax
These stretches aren’t going to fix your muscular problems, you should see a medical professional for that, but for the average person, this will help eliminate some of the more common aches and pains that accompany a hard day glued to your desk.
Daniel Steven has been an Executive Health Coach for over 9 years and specialises in working with busy executives who are looking to lose some weight, increase their energy levels and better cope with the stresses of a high-pressure job without unrealistic diets and excessive gym sessions. You can find him on LinkedIn and on his website.