Like many people, I spend hours every day peering at a screen while sitting down. Ironically, much of that time is spent writing about the importance of staying active. If you’re also tied to a desk for large parts of your work day, it’s important to incorporate simple stretching into your routine so as to help keep your arms and legs limber and your spine supple.
Why We Need to Stretch
Long periods of sitting can strain some muscles while others may become weak from disuse. When we’re concentrating (especially when we’re texting!), we often unconsciously hold our breath for periods of time, which deprives the muscles of much-needed oxygen and predisposes them to strain and pain. We’re also prone to adopting peculiar positions that put the spine out of alignment, which contributes to muscle fatigue and subsequent back aches and pain in the limbs.
Getting up and stretching not only helps to keep our muscles active and healthy, it also helps break up the monotony of work while giving your eyes a break from the screen and allowing you the opportunity to chat with colleagues.
When to Stretch at Work
Even the best-designed workstation can cause problems for your body as working at a computer often involves very few changes in position. As such, it is best to take a break for 5-10 minutes every hour and to use this time to stand up and walk. One way that companies can encourage this in the office is to centralize recycling stations, printers, fax machines and so on, meaning that people have to get up from their desk every so often.
It’s also worth getting into the habit of scheduling non-confidential phone calls in such a way that you can stroll around during the call, rather than sitting at your desk. You can also offer to do coffee runs and the lunch run for colleagues, helping to build exercise into your day and to keep your coworkers happy!
Simple Neck Stretches
If you really are stuck at your desk, the following moves are stretches for your neck that you can carry out at your desk that will get your blood flowing and keep muscles active:
1. The Shoulder Shrug
This simple move can help relieve tightness and tension in your shoulders and neck; raise your shoulders up towards your ears while keeping your head and neck still, hold the tension for 5 seconds and then relax your shoulders to their normal position. Repeat 2-3 times.
2. The Neck Glide
If you’re developing something of a crick in your neck from hunching over your desk, try a neck glide to relax your neck.
Sit or stand upright and pull your head straight back without lifting your chin. You should feel like you have a double chin. Hold the position for 20 seconds and repeat 3 times. This exercise can help remind you that for every inch your head projects forward from optimal alignment, this places an extra ten pounds of pressure on your cervical spine.
3. The Head Tilt
Another great neck exercise involves lowering your head to one side as if to touch your ear to your shoulder. Hold for five seconds then slowly return to centre. Repeat on the other side and then slowly drop your chin to your chest and turn your head to the right, then to the left.
Simple Hand and Arm Stretches
For those of you who spend a lot of time typing and worrying about stress in your hands and forearms, try the following 3 simple stretches:
Hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds while making sure to breathe normally
- Start with your hand open, then make a fist while keeping your thumb straight. Slowly slide the tips of your fingers up your palm until they reach the base of your fingers. This helps to stretch out the hand and is a great stretch for those who spend hours typing.
- Another stretch starts with your hand open and face down. Gently bend your wrist to the left, then the right, holding each position for 3-5 seconds and repeating each side three times.
- To stretch out your forearms, sit with your elbows on your desk and your palms together. Slowly lower your wrists to the table and hold the stretch for 10-20 seconds, then relax and repeat.
In addition to these stretches, it is a good idea to talk to your HR department about ergonomic assessment of workstations, especially if you and/or your colleagues frequently suffer from back pain, neck pain or similar ailments. A pain-free workforce is more productive, which should help to convince management to stretch their pocketbooks.