Sitting all Day? Try These Stretches
by Jari Love
When you sit, your body slumps, your metabolism slows, and you…spread. At least, that’s what all the experts say. But if you’re in a job where you must sit—or you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a standing desk—you’ll be happy to learn that there are ways to undo the damage—plus boost your calorie burn.
First, chairs and couches lead to trouble for the simple reason that they support your body weight. With a chair holding you up, your ankles, knees, and hips stiffen, your muscles weaken, your shoulders round forward, and your back hunches. Even worse, your circulation slows, which depresses your metabolism.
Yikes. Okay, now for some good news: In a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers tracked nearly 13,000 women for 12 years to find out how much health damage sitting could do over the long term. Yes, years spent on the couch or hunched over a desk was linked to a greater risk of weight gain, heart disease, and an earlier demise—but only for women who sat still. When the researchers separated the women into three groups—low fidgeting, moderate fidgeting, and high fidgeting, they discovered that the most active sitters completely dodged any increased health risks. These women sat as much as 7 hours a day, but by continually tapping their fingers, bouncing their legs, and, the researchers suspect, hopping up frequently, they were able to avoid the health impacts of lounging.
So if you’re trapped in a chair, be sure to add some fidgeting and get up to wander around every 20 minutes or so. And try out the 6 stretches below. They’re designed to counter the muscle-weakening, joint-stiffening, and shoulder-hunching effects of spending too much time on your keister.
What to do: Hold each of these static stretches for 30-seconds, and try to do the series in this order, twice a day.
- Supported Backbend
Why: Bending backward helps improve posture, and supports the muscles that stabilize your spine.
How: Stand facing away from a wall, your heels about one foot away from the baseboard. With your arms over your head, elbows bent backward so that your palms are facing the wall, slowly lean back and catch your body weight with your hands. Walk your hands down the wall until you begin to feel a stretch. (You may also need to step further away from the wall as your back bends.
Be sure to start slowly; as your back gets stronger you’ll be able to go deeper into the backbend. Place the tip of your tongue in the roof of your mouth, drop your jaw, and breathe in and out through your nostrils as you hold the backbend.
- Lunge With Rotation
Why: Build strength in your legs and shoulders while stretching your hips. The twists will also help maintain healthy spinal movement (healthy discs).
How: From a standing position, take a big step forward with your right foot into a lunge, taking care that your right knee does not extend past your toes. Place your hands on either side of your right foot. Now lift your right arm toward the ceiling and turn your gaze upward at the same time. As you exhale, try to rotate a little deeper into the rotation. Switch sides and repeat.
The lunge is not as deep as a “runners lunge,” and the bottom hand touches the knee, not all the way to the floor.
- Shoulder Opener
Why: Sitting tends to pull our shoulders inward and collapse our chest. This opens the shoulders and chest.
How: Stand up straight and tall, holding a towel or belt in each hand behind your back. Raise your arms behind you as high as you can without feeling discomfort. Pull your shoulders back and together as you lift the towel.
- Low Cobra With Feet Elevated
Why: Stretching through hip flexors (they get really tight from being bent in a seated position for too long); strength for the glutes; openness in the chest and shoulders; strengthening for the lower back.
How: Lie face down with your ankles resting on a foam roller or set of yoga blocks. Press your forearms into the floor and pull your shoulders back as you raise your head up and back.
- Star Reach
Why: This move lengthens the body by stretching the shoulders, chest, mid-back, hips, and ankles, and it’s the perfect antidote for chair-tightened joints and muscles.
How: Stand with your legs slightly wider than hip-width. Reach your arms high in the sky with palms facing forward. Spread your fingers. Rise high on your tippy toes. You’ll experience an exhilarating stretch from the extension of the ankles, knees, hips, chest, and shoulders.
- Number 4-Sit
Why: This little muscle in your rear end atrophies and tightens with prolonged sitting. With a simple stretch you can keep your piriformis active and flexible.
How: While seated, cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Use your right hand to apply a tiny bit of pressure to the inside of your right knee, and then slightly lean forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your right piriformis (on the side of your glute). Hold the stretch there as you inhale. When you exhale, attempt to apply a tad more pressure and lean a half an inch further forward into the stretch. Continue with each breath. Switch sides and repeat.
Jari Love – original creator of Get RIPPED! DVD series and group exercise classes. The hot-selling and critically acclaimed Get RIPPED! series enables individuals of any fitness level to burn up to three times more calories than the traditional weight-training program, and has received rave reviews from fitness critics throughout North America since the first title debuted in late 2005.