Desk Job Survival: How to undo the effects of sitting all day
It comes as no surprise that sitting all day is not healthy for our bodies. Research shows that sitting for excessive periods of time raises numerous health concerns. These include weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions.
Sitting has been described as the ‘new smoking’ for our bodies.
The physical impacts are clear. Sitting for long periods, particularly if you have poor posture, will cause tightness in your hip flexors, which in turn causes glute muscles to lengthen and overwork, and can cause lower back problems. These symptoms can lead to further problems caused by imbalances and inhibited mobility.
This all sounds so desperate! Is there a way of undoing the damage?
While we are not suggesting that your job is going to kill you, it is a good idea to take some simple steps towards improving your health at work. Studies show that simply standing up and moving frequently throughout the day can help to offset the negative effects of sitting all day – so you can be an office worker and still give your body the movement it needs to stay healthy. Furthermore, there are certain exercises that will make a huge difference.
To help get you started we have put together a list of both stretches and strengthening exercises that will help to counteract the effects of sitting all day. Start by incorporating these into your fitness routine:
1. LEG SWINGS
Dynamic stretches are one of the best ways to get your blood moving and warm up your muscles – two very important things if you have been sitting all day. This gentle movement will loosen up your hamstrings, hips, and glutes. Make sure you hold onto something for balance (a chair, your desk, the wall!) and repeat as many times as necessary. Perform swings front and back AND left and right. Start off with 10 on each side and see how you feel from there.
This stretch combines a lunge with a static twist and is great for the lower back ad hips. Those who sit for prolonged periods are prone to hip and lower back pain. The seated position leads one muscle group to contract and shorten, in turn, the opposing group lengthens to compensate. Extended periods in a seated position trigger these muscles to become underactive, the opposing muscles then become overactive, which leads to muscular imbalance.
The twisting element helps to improve posture by working on the spine and back muscles, it eases tension in the back, neck and shoulders. It can also tone your abdominals, strengthening your transverse and oblique abs! In yoga twists are used to detoxify the body, another reason to get twisting!
The figure four stretch is a great tool to mobilise the hip joint and stretch the muscles around the hip such as the glutes and piriformis. Tight hips can cause our backs to get very stiff, so this is also a great stretch to prevent and relieve back pains. This pose eliminates tension that builds up and can be very soothing.
4. CHEST OPENER
When we spend a large chunk of the day hunching forward, stretching out the chest can be extremely beneficial for the body. If our shoulders are hunched this can cause the muscles in our chest to become short, which can contribute to upper back and neck pain. This stretch opens the shoulders, resetting proper posture as you also open up and stretch through your chest. The link above has a variety of exercises to open up the chest.
5. WALL ANGELS
The Wall Angel is a mobility exercise which works to correct your posture, fire up both your core, legs and glutes, it can also help to extend your thoracic spine, stretch out your chest and activate your lower traps. By stretching our chest muscles and strengthening the muscles between your shoulder blades we can improve both the range of motion in our shoulders and our upper body posture.
1. CAT COW POSE
Cat Cow is a yoga pose that helps to improve posture and balance, it is also ideal for those suffering back pain. It brings a gentle stretch and increased mobility to the lower back. Breath work plays an important role when performing cat cow. The benefits of this synchronized breath will also help you to unwind and ease some of the day’s stress.
2. GLUTE BRIDGE
As the name suggests, the glute bridge mainly targets its namesake muscles. But this great exercise is also a fantastic tool for core stabilization. Glute bridges are important because they strengthen the muscles in your whole posterior chain, which is especially important if you sit all day. When we spend the whole day sitting behind a desk there is often an impulse to sit too far forward, which triggers your hip flexors to tighten up and essentially switches off your glutes. Activating them as part of your training regimen does wonders for your health (and physique!).
There are also multiple ways to challenge yourself further, for example the single leg glute bridge which gives your core even more of a workout and allows you to focus on each glute muscle separately.
3. DEAD BUG
Most of the population find themselves spending far too long sitting. Prolonged sitting without any exercise can weaken the muscles, particularly those in the midsection.
The dead bug is a great tool to undo some of this damage. It focuses on the stabilizer muscles of the core such as the transverse abdominus. Posture is very closely linked to our core muscles, and a weak core will result in poor posture.
The dead bug is a great drill to strengthen the core, and particularly the abdominal muscles that stop the lower back from extending i.e. bending backwards. This exercise also forces you to focus on the correct positioning of your pelvis, activating all the muscles around there too.
But the dead bug comes with some other considerable physical benefits. Synchronizing your opposite arm and leg movements is a brilliant way to not only stress your core, but to train your coordination. Many people nowadays find that they struggle with mobility issues thanks to sitting all day, dead bugs can help you expand your range of motion.
4. CLAM SHELL
Weak glute muscles can lead to a number of issues, and even injuries, including knee pain. You are probably familiar with the gluteus maximus (the largest of our buttock muscles), but there is another muscle called the gluteus medius which is equally important. The gluteus medius is responsible for stabilizing your pelvis. If you have any weakness other muscles will step in to compensate, which results in misalignments, reduction in performance and injury. One of the best ways to address weak gluteus medius muscles is by doing clamshells!
This drill is appropriate for all fitness levels and requires no equipment whatsoever. It works both the inner and the outer thigh muscles and works on hip alignment, which helps to ease tension in the lower back.
5. UPPER BODY PULLING EXERCISES
You can work on a resistance band row, a TRX or ring row, or a seated row. If you don’t make it to a gym you can simply get yourself an elastic band and work on resistance band rows. Pulling exercises help to strengthen all of the muscles that assist with posture along the back of our body. These also happen to be the same muscles that suffer from a rounded seated posture.
Let us know how you get on with these, and please let us know ways in which you try to combat the effects of sitting!