Sitting for Extended Periods of Time: The Risks and Benefits of Incorporating Simple Stretches into Your Day
Sitting for long periods of time has become a common norm in our culture, as many people work desk jobs or attend school where they are required to sit for hours each day. Although sitting may seem harmless, research has shown that prolonged sitting can have negative effects on our mind and body. It has been linked to increased risks for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, deep-vein thrombosis, and metabolic syndrome. Furthermore, sitting for long periods of time can result in pain, which can make it difficult to perform daily tasks, and impact our quality of life.
Fortunately, there is an easy solution to combat these issues. Simple stretches added into our daily routines can help alleviate pain and reduce the negative effects of sitting. Even if we cannot get up and move around for long periods of time, incorporating stretches for a few minutes throughout the day can make a significant difference.
Benefits of Stretching
Stretching promotes the flow of blood throughout the body. This, in turn, helps to boost creativity, increase energy levels, and promote efficiency in the body. Furthermore, stretching can alleviate pain by loosening the hip flexor and hamstring muscles, and help to eliminate some stiffness in the joints. Since prolonged sitting can cause problems with balance and gait, stretching can improve muscle flexibility and promote better posture. Therefore, incorporating stretching into our daily routine will have multiple benefits, with the added bonus of being a simple and convenient solution.
The Risks of Prolonged Sitting
Studies have shown that those who sit for long periods of time on a regular basis are more likely to die from any cause than those who lead more active lifestyles. Furthermore, individuals who sit more are at a higher risk for developing numerous health issues, such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome. However, for many of us, increased physical activity may be difficult due to busy schedules. Incorporating simple stretches throughout the day for a minute or two can be effective and a great way to encourage more movement, even if it’s only for a brief period each time.
Simple stretches to do while sitting at your desk
1. Seated twist
Sitting in a chair with a long, tall spine, place the right hand on the outside of your left knee. Twist to your left while holding onto the right hand as far right as possible. Exhale as you twist, and inhale as you ease off. Repeat on the other side. Repeat each side 2-3 times.
This stretch is great for releasing tension in the back, shoulders, and neck. Twisting also helps to rinse out the internal organs, which can provide an energy boost.
2. Chest and shoulder opener
Sitting on the edge of your chair, clasp your hands behind your back, opening up your chest and shoulders. Inhale/exhale several times. Release and repeat 2-3 times.
This stretch targets the chest muscles, but can also alleviate upper back pain. By opening up your lungs, it helps to reduce stress and encourage deeper breathing.
3. Seated pigeon
Sit on the edge of your chair with the right ankle over the left knee and the left foot flat on the floor. Sit tall, imagining a string is pulling the crown of your head up towards the ceiling. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds, and repeat both sides 2-3 times.
Seated pigeon targets the gluteus medius, minimus, and piriformis muscles, relieving tension in the hips and helping to create stability in the knee joint.
4. Hip flexor stretch
Sitting shortens and tightens the hip flexor muscle, which can result in back pain. Shift to face your left on the edge of your chair, extend the right leg behind you with a straight knee. Sit tall, lift your sternum, and tuck your tailbone under to deepen the stretch. Repeat on the other side. Repeat each side 2-3 times.
This stretch targets the hip flexor muscles, promoting a release of tension in the area.
5. Hamstring stretch
Stand with your right knee slightly bent and left leg extended in front of you with your heel on the floor. Draw your toes upwards, but keep your knee slightly bent. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Repeat each side 2-3 times.
This stretch targets the hamstring muscles, promoting better posture, range of motion, and balance. It can also relieve lower back pain.
While it may seem difficult to incorporate physical activity into a busy workday, simple stretches done throughout the day can make a significant difference in promoting better overall health. By targeting different muscles throughout the body, these stretches can alleviate pain, promote circulation, and reduce the negative effects of prolonged sitting. By making stretching at work a habit, the brain and body will thank you for the added benefits that come along with it.