Sitting chained to your desk for hours at a time can lead to a variety of aches and pains in the body. While there are options to break up sitting, such as taking frequent breaks and investing in a standing desk, these adjustments aren’t enough to undo the damage of sitting.
Excessive sitting leaves your hips and legs tight, and your glutes inactive. It compresses the lower spine, and puts tonnes of stress on our pectoral muscles and trapezius muscle. Not only do our muscles experience strain, but sitting for long periods of time over the course of years is bad for your brain and heart, too. We weren’t meant to sit this much – just look at how our ancestors moved about!
Even if you exercise regularly, sitting for long periods significantly shortens life expectancy (1).
Desk Job Dangers
Those who work desk jobs suffer from a lot of pain due to poor posture and lack of movement – both of which lead to constricted, tight muscles.
You can help your body out by remaining aware of your posture while sitting and standing. If you experience pain and stiffness, it is likely the chair you’re using. If you can invest in a good ergonomic chair that fits your body, it’ll help you sit properly, and therefore eliminate strain on your muscles, bones and ligaments.
If you slouch, cross your legs, or keep your arms too high or low, your sitting position will be negatively affected. As we get older, and get used to sitting in positions that are modified by poorly designed furniture, we often resort to slouching, because it is the most comfortable way to sit.
The video below illustrates how we’ve essentially forgotten to sit.
Best Exercises to Avoid Spinal Damage Caused by Sitting
Your whole body will feel better after performing these exercises and stretches. They will target all areas of the body that are affected from a lifetime of sitting – the neck, shoulder, chest, back, and hips.
Be sure to walk around every 20-30 minutes, too. This will help not only your back, but it will give your eyes a break, too. Whatever your position, be sure to change it often. Any move is a good one.
1. Table Pigeon Pose
1. Start by placing your leg on a tabletop or bed edge, with the knee bent at 90 degrees.
2. Place one hand on the table and one hand on your foot for support.
3. Lean forward and hold for 60-90 seconds, then lean a little to the left and hold for 60-90 seconds.
4. Lastly, lean a little to the right and hold for 60-90 seconds.
5. Repeat on the other leg.
2. Grok Squat
1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly squat down as low as you can go.
2. Hold the position for as long as you like, then stand up slowly.
3. Glute Bridges
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
2. Raise your buttocks and hips so that your body forms a straight line, squeezing your glutes to push you up.
3. Do 3 sets of 10.
4. Couch Stretch
1. Place one foot flat on the floor and the opposite knee on the couch where the seat and back meet so that your shin and foot are up on the back of the couch.
2. Flex your abdominal muscles and glutes and slowly raise your torso up so that you are standing straight and tall.
3. Hold the position for 5 minutes, and then switch legs.
Once you have got this exercise down pat, you can add more to the exercise by placing your foot at the edge of the couch’s seat instead of the floor. Your back and abs will have to work harder to maintain balance and posture, which can help reverse “desk slouch” from work.
5. Cat and Cow
1. Start with your hands and knees on the floor, palms directly under the shoulder rand knees directly below the hips.
2. Breathe in and pull your abdominal muscles in as you arch your back up like a stretching cat. Let your head and tailbone drop down toward the floor.
3. Return to the initial position, and then extend the upper part of the spine upwards, supporting it with your abdominal muscles and not letting your neck sink into your shoulders, or your shoulders crunch up into your neck. Make sure your neck is a long extension of your spine, and don’t let the head fall back.
4. Return to starting position and repeat 5 times.
6. Leg Swings
1. Place one hand on the back of a chair or something sturdy for support. Swing one leg forward, as far as it will go, bring it back down past the stationary foot, and continue the swing back as far as it will go.
2. Repeat 20 times, and then switch legs.
3. Switch legs again. Swing it out to the side as far as it will go. Bring it down and in front of your body to cross to the other side.
4. Repeat 20 times, and then switch legs. Make sure you keep your foot flexed throughout the exercise.
7. Thoracic Extension
1. Lay a foam roller on the ground horizontally and lay down on your back so that the foam roller is perpendicular to your spine, or going across your shoulders.
2. Lift your glutes off the floor, and use your heels to move you back and forth.
3. Keep rolling until you hit a point of discomfort, and once you do, hold on that spot for 20-30 seconds.
8. Chin Tuck Exercise (Neck Retraction)
1. Start by sitting with a neutral posture, and proceed by pulling your head backward, almost by making a double chin.
2. You can guide the movement by keeping your fingers in front of your chin.
3. Be sure to keep your eyes level.
4. Hold the stretch for 1-2 seconds, and relax. Repeat 10-20 times.
9. Fire Hydrants
1. Start on all fours and raise your bent leg out to the side to the height of your hip. Lift from the hip and maintain a bent knee without turning your torso.
2. Lower your leg back to starting position.
3. Repeat 10-20 times on each side.
10. Doorway Stretch
1. Stand inside a doorway and bend your right arm at a 90 degree angle, and place your forearm against the doorframe.
2. Position the bent elbow at about shoulder height. Alternatively, you can just grab the doorframe with your hand as shown in the picture above.
3. Rotate your chest to the left until you feel a nice stretch in the chest and front shoulder.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat with the opposite arm.