Stretch and unwind...
With many of us working from home and losing the commute, it’s far too easy for us to become less active, only walking from the bed to the desk chair to the couch these days!
How are you feeling? A bit stiffer? Seizing up a bit more? Uncomfortable? Aching and tired? Sitting down and staring at a screen for hours on end is not good for our physical wellbeing, with poor posture placing undue pressure on our necks, shoulders, back and hips.
There certainly comes a point in my day when my neck begins to feel stiff and my shoulders feel like they’ve been hunched up to my ears. My lower back is generally fine as I sit on a stability ball when working, which keeps me mobile, but for many this is another common place for tightness and discomfort. The first couple of weeks in lockdown assured me that sitting on a dining chair for 7 hours a day was not going to be viable for the coming months!
So, if you don’t have a stability ball to hand, and are not willing or able to throw yourself into a full blown yoga routine during your lunch hour, what other remedies are there for aching desk bodies?
The first is simple: GET UP
Try and take regular breaks and move more. Why not set a timer on your phone to alert you to get up regularly? Get up from your desk and have a walk about, whether it’s to make a drink, look out of the window or chat on the phone, rather than through the laptop. A recent study by UCLA suggested that even if you do regular exercise outside of work hours, it won’t undo the damage done by sitting still 9-5. So regardless of how busy you are, move.
The current situation has given many of us the opportunity to incorporate early morning or evening walks into our day, due to reduced commitments and the avoidance of sitting in rush hour traffic. Make the most of this opportunity, your Vitamin D levels will also thank you for the daily boost of sunlight on your skin.
The second is: STRETCH
As well as helping to offset the issues caused by sitting still for hours, daily stretching can aid better mental health. It provides a window to escape the stress of the day and get back in touch with our bodies. Try these simple stretches after work, at lunchtime or during a call with the video turned off! Of course, there’s no reason why you can’t get the kids involved too. Work at your own pace, ease into the stretches and don’t forget to breathe. All you need is loose stretchy clothing, which I think is all anyone is wearing anyway these days!
Sitting down for long periods shortens our hip flexors and reduces mobility, and over time this has the potential to cause to significant issues elsewhere. The different areas of our bodies are so closely connected that tightness in one area inevitably has a knock-on effect elsewhere. Since the hips sit at the base of the spine, muscular tightness here can contribute to back pain, knee pain and tight hamstrings.
Here’s our top suggestions for lower body stretches to incorporate into your daily routine:
Start by kneeling on the floor with the rest of your body straight. Then pick up your left leg and place your foot on the floor in front of you, so the leg forms a 90 degree angle. Once you’re in position, you can start to slowly move your torso and knee forwards, keeping your hips pushed slightly forwards, abdominals pulled in and your bottom tucked underneath. Wait until you feel a slight stretch in the front of your right hip, and hold the position there for 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
I like to kneel on a cushion for comfort, but if that’s still uncomfortable for you, vary this stretch by lifting the back knee off the floor. In this variation, your back leg should be straight out behind you and off the ground. Again, keep the abdominals pulled in.
For this pose you need to have good balance, so feel free to use a wall or chair if you need the extra support. From a standing position, bring your left heel up towards your bottom and hold it in your hand. Making sure to push the hips gently forwards, pull your foot towards your bottom until you feel a stretch in your quads. This will help to release the hips and combat stiffness.
SEATED FORWARD FOLD
From a seated position, place the heel of your foot out in front of you, preferably on a footrest, box or low shelf. With the abdominals pulled in, bend forwards at the hip until you feel a stretch down your leg and hold still. To increase the stretch, you can reach your hands down towards your foot. Repeat this on both sides, or alternately you can do both legs at once.
Everyday activities allow gravity to put a great deal of pressure on the spine, which can lead to uncomfortable neck and lower back compression. One of the best ways to counteract this potential damage is a simple rag doll forward fold. This allows gravity to decompress the spine and gives length and space for the bottom and thigh muscles to stretch, but only do this if you are comfortable and remember to keep your abdominals engaged to protect your spine.
STANDING FORWARD FOLD
From standing, bend your knees and hinge forward at your hips. Shift your weight into the balls of your feet and drop your head heavy to release the muscles that support the neck and low back. This is a great way to get fresh blood to the brain and release compression and stagnation from sitting. Straighten your legs only as much as you feel comfortable.
Either hold your opposite elbows or let your arms drop towards the floor, and hang down there, gently swaying from side to side, nodding “yes” and shaking “no” with your head. Slowly roll back up, one vertebra at a time, with the knees soft, and the abdominals pulled in.
You’ve probably already noticed that your glute muscles tend to snooze while you're sitting in a chair all day, As well as focusing on strengthening them when you workout, also do glute squeezes at your desk to help activate the muscles. This will help to increase your awareness of these muscles which can go a long way to ensure that the pathways between these muscles and your brain stay well connected, essential to making sure we use our muscles appropriately during exercise and daily function.
Start this activating stretch by lying on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground and your arms down by your sides. Then tense your abdominal muscles and glutes to raise your bottom off the floor, until they come into alignment with the rest of your body. Hold the pose for around 10-30 seconds, then lower yourself back to your starting position and repeat a few times. This will stretch out everything from your hips to your hamstrings, and help to strengthen your core.
Get on all fours, placing knees a bit wider than shoulders and pointing toes down into the floor. Keeping your back flat, lean back towards your heels gently until you reach the end of your range and hold. Rest your forehead on your hands and relax.
Try these simple upper body mobilisers. They can be done while seated, or walking round the room, so they’re easy to fit into a busy work day.
When your shoulders have been hunched and immobile for such a long time, releasing them with this shoulder shrug exercise is a massive relief. Simply lift your shoulders up towards your ears and squeeze. Hold them there for a couple of seconds, before relaxing and returning your shoulders to their starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Lace your fingers together and push your arms up towards the ceiling, with the palms of your hands facing upwards. Make sure you’re reaching as high as you can to make the most of the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, and then bring your arms back down. Do this two or three times.
Your neck is often one of the worst-hit parts of your body when you have a desk job, and neck pain is very common among office workers. Neck rotations are a great way to relieve some of the tension that builds up over the working day.
Tilt your head to the right to start. Keep your head in position for a few seconds, and then slowly roll your head forwards and towards the left side of your neck. You should feel the muscles in the side of your neck and upper back stretching as you move. Hold here for another few seconds, and then roll your head back and to the right. That is one rep. Repeat a few times.
Sit with your back straight and chin tucked in slightly. Keeping your head level throughout the movement, slide your head back as far as possible and hold in place for a few seconds, before returning to the starting position. Repeat 10 times. I suffered recently with a trapped nerve and couldn’t do this one at all so had to build up really slowly as part of my rehabilitation plan, but it helped a lot.
To counteract the forward-leaning posture of typing, texting and reading, interlace your fingers behind your back and reach your arms upward to expand the chest. This opens up the front shoulders. Hold the stretch for ten seconds, rest for ten seconds and repeat.
If you prefer, you can open up the chest by sitting tall and interlacing hands behind head and elbows wide. Lift through the spine and look up to the ceiling, taking the weight of the head back into the hands. Return. Close the elbows, then gently round the upper spine to stretch the back of the neck. Repeat five times.
Sit up straight in a chair, with feet on floor hip-width apart, lift through the spine and rotate keeping your core tight. You can use chair arms to gently assist the twist. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat on the other side. Do this slowly and carefully.
Some final thoughts….
When it comes to staying mobile and flexible, do what feels good for you. I love following exercise routines, but I equally love going rogue and just doing what I feel my body needs on some days. So put some relaxing music on Spotify, breathe deeply and stretch away.
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