Many claim they don’t have time for exercise because they already have a busy day. Most often, their work consists of sitting at a desk on a computer all day. However, while you may get a lot done at your desk during the day, sitting for prolonged periods can cause physical and mental health problems.
Thankfully, there are several easy-to-do, low-impact stretches and exercises you can do at your desk to help. In this article, we will discuss the risks of prolonged sitting and share some quick stretches and movements you can do at your desk.
The risks of prolonged sitting
Sitting at your work desk all day may make you more productive at your job, but it’s not good for your health and wellbeing. For example, prolonged sitting can increase your:
- blood pressure
- blood sugar
- cholesterol levels
- chances of cardiovascular disease
Sitting all day can also increase your stress levels and affect your mental capacity. People who sit at a computer all day also tend to snack more, have a greater chance of developing posture problems, and even experience mental fatigue.
Top 5 best stretches to do at your desk
Take a few minutes throughout the day to do some of these quick stretches at your desk:
1. Moving your arms
If your desk and chair are ergonomically aligned, your arms will be at a 90-degree angle most of the day. Do several arm stretches throughout the day to get the blood flowing, so you don’t get stiff shoulders and elbows. Here are a few stretches you can do (hold each for 10-30 seconds)
- Upper body and arm stretch: Clasp your hands together and hold them high above your head until you feel a slight stretch, and hold.
- Overhead Reach: Extend one arm overhead, gently reaching the opposite side and hold. Switch sides and do the same for your other arm.
- Shoulder Stretch: Clasp your hands together behind your back and push your chest outwards to feel the stretch, and hold it.
2. Relax your shoulders
Your shoulders often feel tense and tight when you spend a lot of time at a computer. Here are some shoulder and neck exercises to loosen the joints in these areas:
- Shoulder Shrug: Raise both shoulders towards your ears (like a shrug), then drop them. Repeat this up and down motion 10 times.
- Neck Stretches: Gently roll your head in a semi-circle from one side to the other, with your chin towards your chest. Hold on each side for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Do this set 3 times.
3. Stretch your legs
Here are a few ways you can stretch your leg muscles and joints:
- Chair Squats: Push your chair slightly away from your desk and practice your squats. Squat down so you just lightly touch your chair (without actually sitting) then straighten your legs again. Repeat 5-10 times or to your ability.
- Thigh Stretches: Stand up, grab your ankle or pant leg and bring it back towards your buttock. When you feel a slight stretch in your thigh, hold that pose for 10-30 seconds, then repeat with your other ankle.
4. Rotate your ankles
If you’re sitting ergonomically in your chair, your feet will be flat on the floor. For some people, this can cause fluid buildup and swelling in their legs and ankles. To improve your circulation:
- Lift one leg up or out in front of you.
- Rotate your ankles for 10-30 seconds in each direction.
- Do the same on the other leg.
- Feel free to massage your legs and ankles, too if that helps.
5. Eye/Vision “stretches”
Long-term use of computers can cause eye strain (known as Computer Vision Syndrome), so “exercising” your eyes is also recommended. Eye strain can manifest as eye discomfort and pain, blurred vision, trouble focusing, sensitivity, and headaches, among other symptoms.
To help avoid eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule coined by the American Optometric Association: after 20 minutes of looking at a screen, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Learn more about eye strain caused by computer usage and Computer Vision Syndrome on the American Optometric Association website.
Do you forget to stretch?
Despite your best intentions, you may often forget to do your stretches during the day. Here are a few tips to help remind you to stretch:
- Set a timer for certain times of the day. When the alarm goes off, spend 5 minutes doing some stretches in areas you’re feeling stiff.
- Every time you get up to grab a coffee or water, spend the first 5 minutes back doing your stretches.
- Before starting and ending your day, take some time to move your body and stretch.
Other health tips for desk-workers
There are other ways to prioritize your health, even if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk. These include:
- Getting up regularly: Make sure you don’t spend 8-hours at your desk without getting up. Set a timer to remind yourself to get up and walk around for a bit throughout the day.
- Drink water: Water is the foundation of good health. Have a bottle or glass of water nearby and stay hydrated.
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses: Prevent eye strain by wearing blue light blocking glasses to block the harmful blue light from your screen.
- Try standing meetings: Need to meet with co-workers? Try a standing meeting. These will give you a chance to stretch your legs and make for quicker meetings too!
- Stand while on the phone: When the phone rings, take the call standing up or walking around the office (as long as you don’t disturb anyone else)
- Take the stairs: It’s not necessarily a “desk” exercise, but if you have the option of taking the elevator or the stairs to see a co-worker or go to a meeting, choose the stairs. It’s a quick way to get your blood pumping after sitting all day.
Look for other places in your day to work in a few stretches even if it’s just one set of stretches at a time. Getting your body used to little movements throughout the day can give you energy and help you stay healthy.
When you’re feeling extra sore or stiff after sitting all day, book a massage treatment at Oceana. We’ll help boost your circulation and loosen your muscles again.