Are you sitting comfortably? Probably not after working from home for nearly a year.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister outlined his roadmap for lifting the freeze, saying that ministers will decide by the end of June whether home-working rules can be lifted. Unfortunately, that means we’ll be hunched over our laptops at the kitchen table for nearly four more months.
The shift to working from home has prompted many of us to adjust our posture to minimize the damage caused by sitting at a desk all day. However, according to Lucy Macdonald, a physical therapist at Octopus Clinic, posture is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to keeping the body healthy at home. “People are too obsessed with how they sit and don’t focus enough on the fact that they just need to move more.”
After all, it’s very easy to spend all day sitting without a commute to school, work, the train station, or the workplace, from the kitchen table to the study to the sofa. This can damage the musculoskeletal system and cause microtrauma to the tissues, causing pain and soreness. Joints, which are filled with fluid, can also become stiff if you don’t move.
Moving the body oxygenates the brain, which can lead to improved performance and also has a positive impact on mental health. In short, exercise is “the holy grail that prolongs life,” Macdonald said.
Although we know the benefits of exercise, finding time for regular walks during a hectic workday can be difficult.
So Macdonald recommends getting up from your desk four times a day and walking a lap around the house. Ideally, you should also spend five minutes every hour doing some form of exercise at your desk. Macdonald recommends setting the alarm on your phone or smartwatch to get into the habit of regular, hourly exercise.
You can either do 30 repetitions of one or two exercises every few hours or, for a more significant effect, do only about five repetitions of one exercise every hour. “Little and often is better,” Macdonald says.
Here are the best exercises, according to Macdonald and yoga instructor Eithne Bryan:
1. Steps on the spot
This is an excellent warm-up exercise. Sit upright in your chair and, while keeping your lower back and hips in place, lift first one leg and then the other in a marching motion. When you feel your muscles getting warm, add your arms: lift your left arm as you lift your right leg, and so on.
“The great thing about steps on the spot is that you’re using multiple muscle groups,” Macdonald says. The movement works your hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, and core muscles. “It’s like a full-body warm-up.”
2. Twist in a seated position
Cross your right leg over your left, place your left arm over your crossed thigh, and twist your torso to the right. Support yourself with your backhand on the chair behind you. Inhale as you sit up higher, and inhale into the twist as you twist lower. Bryan recommends 5-10 breaths in each direction.
“This stretches the outer edge of the hip (the crossed leg) and invigorates the nervous system with the twist,” Bryan explains. “It’s a great way to relax the spine and create space for it to move.”
Macdonald says this position is also good for the back. “The seated twist directly targets the joints and structures of the mid-back,” she says. “So when that part of the body is nice and loose, and you can move freely from there, you can breathe easier, too.”
Read also: 4 effective Pilates exercises for the waist
3. Lift buttocks
Place your hands on your hips, rock on your left buttock, and lift your right off the seat. Then, rock slowly but smoothly to the other side and repeat 30 times (or as long as you have time).
“As you pull up one side, the lower back on the opposite side gets a nice stretch,” Macdonald explains. On the side, you’re pulling up, so it gets a nice squeeze. The alternating stretch and compression also promote blood flow to the area. This movement is, therefore, “perfect for preventing and treating pain.”
4. Cat cows sitting
Inhale slowly, squeezing the shoulder blades together and lifting the chin slightly. Then exhale by bending inward, rounding the back, and relaxing the chin toward the chest. Bryan recommends repeating the exercise 10 to 15 times. Be sure to move slowly and in time with extended breaths.
Macdonald believes this movement is good for “mobilizing the spine” and associated tendons, ligaments, and muscles. This is especially beneficial if you’ve injured your back, such as lifting something heavy that you’re not used to because the increased blood flow can speed up the healing process.
Sitting cat cows can also be beneficial for the psyche, as it’s a “great way to relieve stress and get back to deeper breathing,” Bryan says.
5. Hand stretch
Stretch both hands forward with one palm facing up. Place the other hand on top and try to pull the fingers back toward the body while keeping the arm straight. Bryan recommends this stretch for the end of the day, for 1-2 minutes per hand.
“There is tension in many areas of the body, and our hands do hard work every day,” Bryan explains. “A gentle stretch can maintain flexibility in the hands and wrists after a long day of typing.
6. Neck stretch
For neck stretches, Macdonald recommends slowly turning your head all the way to the left and then to the right and repeating.
Alternatively, Bryan suggests pulling the shoulders down and letting one ear slide to the side – for example, the right ear to the right shoulder. Hold this for 5-6 breaths, then take your left hand just below your right collarbone, pull it down, and begin to tilt your chin diagonally upward. Hold the position, release, and repeat on the other side.
This is Bryan’s “absolute favorite neck stretch,” and she says it can relieve pressure on the shoulders, neck, and throat.
- Our interview with yoga instructor Eithne Bryan