Offset Your Sitting Slump: Stretches and Tips For Sore, Tired Bodies

April 06, 2017

Many of us kick off our Mondays sitting in a car or on a train, heading to an office job where we sit again for hours before commuting back home, only to plant ourselves again on the couch or in bed. In fact, according to a 2015 report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, more than half of the average American’s waking hours are spent in a sedentary position, whether that’s watching TV, in front a computer or behind the wheel of a car.

In addition to the many long-term health risks associated with all of those hours on your derriere (including higher odds of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and depression) sitting too much can simply leave you feeling stiff and sore.

“The most common problems we see from prolonged sitting are related to the neck and upper back,” notes Kimbre Zahn, M.D., a family and sports medicine doctor with Indiana University Health. “Too much sitting will increase the pressure on your spine, which can facilitate some early degenerative changes.”

It’s also hard to maintain good posture when you’re hunching over a keyboard or smartphone, which can exacerbate the problem, says Dr. Zahn. “Your muscles aren’t properly activated when you’re slumping, which adds to back and neck pain.”

Sitting with your muscles also leads to chronic tightness and inflexibility, especially in key areas like your hip flexors and hamstrings—all of which can make you feel uncomfortable when you stand up.

And while regular physical activity is important for your overall health and wellbeing, the research unfortunately shows that even if you exercise up to an hour a day it won’t offset the damage done from being on your duff. Here’s what will help:

Stand up: “Aim to change positions every 15 to 30 minutes, and take a standing break every half hour,” says Dr. Zahn. Even standing for as little as two minutes can make a difference. “Try to walk and talk if you have to make a phone call, or see if you can stand or work at a standing station at your desk.”

Stretch tight spots: If you’ve ever seen your dog or cat stand up after a nap, you’ll notice they start things off with a full body stretch. They have the right idea. “Stretch as much as possible throughout the day, especially if you’ve been sitting for long periods,” advises Dr. Zahn. Key tight spots include the hamstrings, hips and back.

Here are some helpful stretches to get you started:

* Hamstrings: Lie face up on floor, legs extended. Place a towel behind one thigh, holding ends in each hand. Slowly lift leg, straightening knee and feeling the stretch along the back of the thigh. Hold 10-30 seconds; switch sides.

* Hips: Kneel with one knee on floor (place a folded towel under the knee for padding) and opposite leg forward, knee bent 90 degrees. Keeping torso tall, lean forward, feeling the stretch along the front of your hip. Hold 10-30 seconds; switch sides.

* Chest: Stand tall and clasp hands together behind your back, arms extended. Inhale deeply and look up; as you exhale, press hands down as far as you can, drawing shoulders together to widen the chest. Hold 10-30 seconds.

* Lower back: Sit tall with feet on the floor about hip-distance apart. Twist torso as far as you can to the right, holding onto back of chair or seat for support. Hold 10 seconds, gazing over right shoulder; repeat twist on opposite side.

Strengthen your core: A combo of poor posture and prolonged sitting can make all of the muscles of your core weak. “That can predispose you to pain and other injuries,” says Dr. Zahn.

Core training moves like these can help:

* Planks: Get into a full push-up position, hands on floor under shoulders and legs extended behind you. Keep core tight, hips lifted and head in line with spine. Hold here 30-60 seconds. To increase the challenge, do this move with your forearms on the floor directly below your shoulders.

* Side dips: Lie face up on floor with arms at sides. Bend both knees toward chest. Keeping shoulders on the floor, slowly bring knees toward right side, then back to center and to left. Go only as far as you can without shoulders coming off floor. Do 8-10 reps per side.

* Bird dog: Begin on all fours, knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Extend right leg behind you to hip height while lifting left arm forward to shoulder height, keeping abs engaged. Hold 10-30 seconds; repeat on opposite side.

-- By Alyssa Shaffer

Share This Story