You may have exercised every day this week before heading off for work, but – how many hours did you sit at your desk without moving much more than your fingers? If you are like most people, you worked 40+ hours at your desk this week. Sitting still – especially if your posture is not ideal – is the worst thing you can do! In the long term, it can cause:
- Back, neck and shoulder pain
- Musculoskeletal disorders (including carpal tunnel and tendonitis)
- Stress and low energy
- Stiff and sore muscles
Luckily, there are a few things we can do to combat the negative effects of working long hours at a desk: be mindful of your posture, use helpful tools like a (tiny wrist pillow), move your bones regularly and stretch throughout the day.
Fixing your posture
- Adjust your chair so that you are sitting with your knees almost at the level of your hips, directly over your ankles, this means your legs to hips to back should be in a 100-110 degree angle and your knees should be 90 degrees.
- Sit up with a straight spine, don’t hunch over.
- Your screen should directly in front of you at eye’s level and an arm’s distance away. You should not have to twist and strain to see your monitor.
- Keyboard and mouse should be within easy reach on the same surface.
Some useful ergonomic tools
- A smaller mouse or small pillow: Make it easier for your wrists and hand to be at the same height with your fingers pointing downward.
- A foot rest: If you your feet don’t reach the floor, afoot resthelps you get that 100-110 degree angle.
- Stability cushion: Stability cushions work like exercise balls, however you don’t get as tired so easily and they are more comfortable. They make you engage your core and strengthen your back, core and gluts.
- Back support: This is available for desk chairs, as well as for your car seat. If you have lower back pain, lumbar support is worth the purchase.
The most useful, but discrete exercises you can do at the office
Doctors recommend that you take a small break every hour. Set your alarm to remind yourself to get up, go to the bathroom, fill up your water bottle or walk outside for a breath of fresh air. I take “air breaks” on the hour every hour, just like the smokers might take a “smoke break”. When I come back I feel refreshed and clear-headed.
A spinal twist is known to release toxins and strengthen the spine; it is also great to do after eating because it helps with digestion.
Seated Twist: Sit sideways on your chair maintaining a straight back with feet flat on the floor, hold on to the back of your chair and gently twist from the lumbar region of your back. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the other side. You will notice quick results as you warm up.
Stretch your wrists
These exercises help avoid pain in wrists, forearms and fingers, which are common injuries caused by long-term writing and typing.
Wrist Stretch: Place your palms on the desk and gently apply pressure on the wrists leaning forward. Change the direction of your hands so that your fingers are pointing towards your body and repeat. Next, flip your hands so that your palm is face-down and repeat. Continue to change directions and gently apply pressure.
Wrist Stretch Variation 2: Next, stretch your right arm straight out in front of your body with your palm facing out, and then with the left hand gently pull the fingers back to stretch the palm and wrists. Repeat with hand facing downwards. Repeat the exercise with both hands.
Release your upper body
We tend to hunch over and cave in, which is why it is important to release the tension in your upper body throughout the day, including mini back-bends, shoulder stretches and chest openers.
Triceps Stretch: Sit strait in your chair, feet hip width apart. Place both elbows on desk with your fingers interlaced. Put your head between your elbows, gently pushing town and stretching your triceps. You’ll feel this in your chest and shoulders as well.
Modified Cow Face (Gomukhasana variation): Raise your right hand over head, bend your elbow so that you right hand reaches towers your shoulder blade. With the other hand, push gently against the elbow to deepen the stretch. Then, reach the left hand under the left shoulder blade and try to grab the right hand. Change sides and repeat exercise.
Seated Half Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana variation): Sit straight on your chair and place your right ankle over your left knee. Lean forward until you feel the stretch in your right hip. Repeat with the left leg.
I hope you are so passionate about what you do that you sometimes lose track of time and forget to stretch, but I also hope that you can make a real effort to get up and be active on the hour every hour of your work day! It’s been found that people who sit longer than three hours per day have more health issues. Love what you do, but never sacrifice taking care of yourself. A healthier body means you will have more energy, be more productive, live longer and, most importantly, be happy!