On Your Health

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Counter the Negative Effects of Sitting with Yoga Stretches at Your Desk (no yoga mat required!)

Has your day ever passed so quickly that you blink and it’s already 5 p.m.? You log out of your computer, grab your belongings and stand up from your desk only to be assaulted by stiffness, back pain and shoulder tension.

The average American spends 12 hours sitting each day, with about nine of those hours spent working at a computer. While it might not seem like a big deal, researchers have found that too much sitting can have extremely damaging health effects.

Is sitting the new smoking?

The negative effect of sitting for long periods has come to be known as sitting disease. Some studies have even suggested that “sitting is the new smoking.”  While that claim might seem exaggerated, according to the Mayo Clinic, an analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity did have a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.

How to counter the effects of sitting

Movement, even with only mild exertion, can have a helpful impact on lessening the effects of sitting. If you often find yourself exhausted and achy after a long office day, why not make a new plan for tomorrow?

  1. Stand up! Most fitness trackers and smartwatches can be programmed with an alarm that sounds when you’ve been sedentary for too long, suggesting you stand up and move. And there are several free smartphone apps and desktop apps that can remind you to take a quick break from the computer to move. Your goal should be to stand at least once every hour while you’re working at your desk.
  2. Stretch! Besides stretching your legs by standing, you can also add other types of regular stretching to your day. There are many simple yoga stretches you can do at your desk to reinvigorate your tired muscles and help your body recover from the effects of sitting too long. Try doing some of them when you are taking your mandatory computer breaks!

woman doing desk plank

Yoga stretches you can do at your desk

Practicing these desk yoga stretches will get your blood pumping and stretch out any tight muscles.  

Wrist and finger stretches

Stretch one: Extend your arms to the side or over your head. Draw 5-10 circles inward and outward using your wrists.

Stretch two: Quickly spread your fingers and re-close your fits, repeating this 5-10 times.

Stretch three: Place your hands on your desk, palms facing up and fingers toward you, and place gentle pressure to stretch your wrists and forearms. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

Benefits: Typing all day can build up tension in your fingers, hands and wrists. These stretches increase blood flow to these areas. Try doing them every two hours while at work.

Neck stretch

The movement: Move your head in a circular motion, creating half circles with your neck. Start with your right ear to your right shoulder, then move your head so your chin is pointing toward your chest and finish with your left ear to your left shoulder. Repeat this movement five times going right and five times going left.

Benefits: Stretching out your neck can proactively prevent text neck, a condition in which your neck is strained from holding your head forward and downward. Text neck is most often caused by spending too much time looking at a phone screen but can also occur if you’re staring at a computer screen throughout the day.

Shoulder shrug

The movement: Inhale while raising your shoulders up to your ears. Hold your breath and the stretch for 10 seconds. Exhale and release the shoulder blades back and down the spine.

Benefits: This movement can help prevent curved posture due to slouching. Slumped shoulders and poor posture can lead to neck and back pain.

Elbow circles

The movement: Extend your arms out to the side and place your hands on your shoulders. Then bring your elbows together in front of your body. Slowly circle your elbows back over your head making a circle so that your elbows meet again in front of the body. Repeat this 5-10 times in each direction.

Benefits: This stretch opens up your upper chest and back while helping relieve shoulder tension.

Forward fold with bent legs

The movement: Sit comfortably in your chair with equal weight placed in your hips and legs. Curl your chin gently toward your chest and lean forward, rolling down with the spine as far as possible.

Once fully bent over, allow your arms to be heavy and let them dangle in front or behind your calves to stretch your upper back. It’s important to properly return to an upright seated position – roll up very slowly starting at your tailbone and realigning one vertebra at a time until your head is the last thing to lift.

Benefits: The forward bending motion opens up tight hips and can help prevent spinal compression.

Desk plank 

The movement: Place your hands shoulder-width apart or wider at the edge or your desk. Step your feet back until your feet are directly under your hips. You should feel your spine stretching. Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths.

Benefits: This position stretches your spine and the back of your legs, two places that suffer from prolonged sitting.

For more desk yoga tips, check out these seven exercises from DoYouYoga.

Other ways to ditch your desk 

Looking for other ways to get up and move around the office? Here are a few tips.

  • Do a few laps around your office.
  • Take meetings on the move instead of always opting for the conference room.
  • Take calls while walking around.
  • Try a sit-stand desk that allows you to alternate between sitting and standing.
  • Skip the elevator and take the stairs.
  • Don’t eat lunch or snacks at your desk – go to the break room or find another venue.

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