Sitting is killing us. Independent studies done by multiple reputable medical bodies have indicated that long periods of sitting – defined as sitting for more than 4 hours a day – increases the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, angina, and high blood sugar. Individuals who logged more than 8 hours of couch time each day also have and estimated 50% greater risk of dying from any causes than those who moved around. The problem is: Most of us have to sit for work, sit for Netflix, sit to drive, and sit just because we need to rest from all the damn sitting.
The same studies that show how our rump work is slowly slaying us also says that anything you can do to move around increases circulation, and can rapidly decrease the risks associated with a life spent on our bums. To that end, we offer 12 desk stretches that you can do at work which may very well save your life, so you can work longer, work better, and actually survive to see your retirement so you can sit in your hammock; dying the American Way.
Safety First. Before you attempt any desk stretches, consult with a health professional familiar with your medical history to prevent bodily injury.
Sit Up Straight
The first thing to do isn’t so much a stretch as merely having good posture. Slouching, hunching, and putting your body in the wrong position is the first way to make a bad sit worse. You should be sitting mostly straight – but not like a ramrod – with both feet on the floor and your knees at a 90-degree angle. Keep your computer screen at approximately eye-level or slightly lower, but not so much your head is bowed.
Duration: 10 sec. x3
This is good for alleviating carpal tunnel and keeping your fingers from going numb or losing circulation. Put your hands together directly in front of your chest like you’re thanking the Great Spirit for your data-entry job, and then push your arms downward, keeping your palms together, stretching the muscles on the underside of your forearm.
Duration: 10 sec. x3
There’s a lot of variations on this one. Each is the same basic action. You can do it standing or sitting, depending on your preference. First, clasp your hands behind your back, then stretch them away from your body opening up your chest and moving your shoulders back. Tilt your head back to get your pectorals good and tight. The Rib Spreader helps with posture and allows your lungs and heart more space to function better.
Cow Face Pose
Duration: 10 sec. x3 per side
Ideally, you would do this on the floor with your legs crossed one over the other in front of you, but it can also be accomplished using only your arms. Reach one arm over your shoulder between your shoulder blades and bring the other around behind you at the waist. Clasp your hands together and pull gently. This opens up your chest, and stretches your triceps as well as your deltoids and upper back. Alternate which arm is on top each time. If you can’t reach your hands together, grip a towel or other durable cloth between your hands.
Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch
Duration: 15-20 sec. each arm
This should take you back to your middle school gym class. Right before yet another traumatic game of dodgeball, you’d do this to help get your deltoids loose. You can do it with your arm straight out, or hook it around your neck to really pull out knots in all the tight muscles that like to lurk behind your shoulder blades.
Out & Up
Duration: 10 sec. arms out/10 sec. arms up x3
This is a good combination stretch with a few thousand different ways to do it. Lace your fingers together, then reach them in front of you. The more you reach, the more of your back and forearm muscles you will stretch out. Then throw your arms up above your head to get your shoulders and upper back in on the action. Then, moan with smug satisfaction to annoy your co-workers.
Hammy Desk Stretch
Duration: 10 sec. per leg x3
You can’t ignore your legs, even while you’re sitting down. The most basic way to do this is as pictured, by kicking a leg out straight and then doing a single toe-touch move. If your office is a little looser, and you aren’t wearing a binding skirt or dress, you can also stand up and plop your foot into you chair, then reach for your loafers or sensible pumps.
Duration: 10 sec. per side x3
You can do this flat-footed, or cross your legs to help stretch your glutes along with your back. The point here is to get that lumbar region loosened up, since it takes the lion’s share of the abuse when you’re camped out in an office chair. Grab the back and arms of the chair if necessary to really wring out that spine like a spy with secrets you want.
Duration: 30 sec. per leg
If you have sciatica, lower back pain, or hip discomfort, the Figure-4 is likely to clear it up. With a flat, straight spine, cross one ankle over the opposite knee and then gently lean forward. This stretches the Piriformis Muscle, and will help with lumbar pain, nerve pain, and tightness throughout the pelvis. If you do this, avoid rounding your back, as that greatly reduces the efficacy.
Duration: 15-30 sec.
Not easily done at a desk, but better in a doorway or using a steady cubicle wall, you anchor your hand to the wall and then lean forward. You can do it with your arms directly at shoulder level, but for a real stretch, extend your arms up and back in a Y and lean deeply into it.
Duration: 20 sec. each side
The neck often gets overlooked, yet that’s where most of us carry stress. It’s the place where we breathe, and it helps control blood to the brain. These factors make it arguably the absolute most important place to stretch. Any stretching or massaging of these muscles is usually good, but gently gripping one side of your head and then pulling over toward your elbow stretches your neck and upper back, limiting fatigue, aiding with stress, and often reducing headaches.
Duration: 10 sec per leg x3
You’ll have to stand up for this one, but it’s well worth the effort. Using your desk, a wall, or a chair to anchor yourself – unless you have great balance – you then whip a foot into your hand and gently tug upward, keeping your leg straight. It will relax your quadriceps, which tend to be ignored during sitting. It opens up your pelvis, enhances mobility in your hips, and can even get more blood to your feet for warmth in an office where the thermostat war is being lost.