Simple stretching exercises important for desk workers
Sitting at a desk all day can be rather uncomfortable. It’s also not good for the body. Light exercising, including stretching exercises, should be a part of your everyday routine.
Even a short walk around the house or to the water cooler can make a big difference, says Dan Oberneder, a physical therapist with SPORT Clinic Physical Therapy in Bayside, Wis. Proper breathing is important as well, as deep breaths exercise the diaphragm and help you relax.
Oberneder says there are a number of simple stretching exercises you can do at home or at work, including:
General stretching – Oberneder suggests 30 to 45 seconds of light full-body stretching throughout the day. Avoid bouncing or jerky motions, as those cause muscles to tighten up. You can stretch standing up, or if possible, do back stretches while lying on the floor.
Hands and wrists – While one arm is extended, apply light pressure to the forearm with your other hand while flexing your wrist up and down. Do this several times for 30 to 45 seconds each. Repeat with the other arm.
Shoulders – Strengthening the muscles of the upper back and between the shoulder blades is important for good posture, Oberneder says. However, you need to stretch your chest muscles as well. Rowing exercises are good for that.
Shoulder shrugs work well, also. Shrug your shoulders up and back until you can feel your upper back squeeze. Hold that for five seconds, then relax. Do reps of five to 10 every two hours throughout the day.
Neck – The human head weighs 10 to 14 pounds, Oberneder says, which is equivalent to a bowling ball. While neck curls help with range of motion, they don’t work the postural muscles of the neck and shoulders. One good exercise is the resistance chin tuck.
Tilt your head toward your chest, but not so far that it’s touching. (Pretend you’re making a double chin). Hold that position, but try to pull away. “We call this an isometric contraction,” Oberneder says. Do five reps, five to 10 seconds each, every two or three hours.
If you’re experiencing neck strain, it could be from an improperly placed monitor, which forces you to tilt or twist your head. Position the monitor so that it is directly in front of you and such that there is minimal tilting of your head to read the screen.
Legs and feet – Sitting for extended periods of time affects the hamstrings and hip muscles, Oberneder says. To stretch your hamstrings, lie flat on your back with one knee bent. Use a strap or your hands to pull that knee slowly toward you for 30 to 45 seconds. You should feel a stretch but no pain. Repeat with the other leg.
While in this position, do ankle pumps to work the calf muscles. Straighten your leg, and pump your ankle as if you’re stepping on the accelerator. Oberneder says this exercise helps mobilize the muscles and the sciatic nerve, which is important for people who are experiencing back or leg pain.
You should exercise your hip muscles as well. Get in a half kneeling position with one knee on the floor behind you. The other leg is bent 90 degrees and in front of you. Place your hands on top of that leg and stretch for 30 to 45 seconds. Repeat with the other leg. Do this every hour or two.
Whether you work at home or in an office building, pause occasionally to perform some simple stretching exercises. You will feel much better and be more productive.
For related reading, see “Think ergonomics as you design your home office” and “Nutrition and exercise can be a part of your vacation.”
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