You probably already know that stretching before exercising is a must, but do you know how important stretching is in your everyday life? While sitting down for hours may seem low-impact on the surface, sitting the same position for hours on end can cause damage, discomfort and even chronic pain.
According to the World Health Organization, more than half of the population doesn’t participate in enough physical activity, and physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for mortality across the globe. Studies have also shown that increasing physical activity can improve memory and keep your brain young.
While you should incorporate exercise into your life to the degree to which you’re able before or after your work day, you can also decrease your risk of the consequences of sedentary life by incorporating these quick stretches into your work day routine. To demonstrate, Fairygodboss' very own Isabella Giannicchi, a sales development representative on the team who also heads weekly stretch sessions in our NYC office has provided some examples of each posture. You can check them out below:
If you have been experiencing continuous lower back pain, tight quads might be the source. Constant sitting causes your quadriceps — the muscles in the front of the thighs — to tighten up. When these muscles contract, it can cause strain on the lower back. To stretch your quads, stand behind your chair, and rest your hands on it for support. Stand on your left leg, and grab your right ankle with your right hand. Repeat on the other side.
Prolonged periods of sitting can take a major toll on your spine. Putting extra pressure on spinal bone nerve tissue can lead to pinched back nerves and increase your risk of having a herniated disk. Performing the seated spinal twist stretch is another great way to loosen up tight lower back muscles and decrease these risks. Additionally, this stretch helps to shake out any tension being stored in the neck and shoulders.
To perform this gentle stretch, sit in your chair with your feet parallel to one another. Stack your knees above your ankles, chin parallel to the floor, spine straight. Next, slowly rotate your torso and neck and look over your shoulder. Repeat on the other side, then return to center.
The benefits of stretching are not only physical, but mental as well. Sitting for extended periods of time increases the likelihood of experiencing feelings of nervousness, restlessness, fatigue, and even increase the risk of developing anxiety. This simple stretch encourages stress relief and has a calming effect by opening up the shoulders and pelvis muscles. Additionally, it helps improve blood circulation. To perform this stretch, sit in your chair and place both feet on the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your back, and straighten your arms. Fold at your hips — not your waist — until you bring your chest to your thighs, and keep your neck loose.
Typing for extended periods of time can cause tightness and tension in the forearms. Fortunately, it’s easy to find relief. You may not even realize how tight your forearms can get from typing until you stretch them out. Stretching your forearms can also help prevent muscle strain and reduce overall fatigue by sending more blood flow and nutrients into the muscles. This quick move helps stretch those muscles in the forearms and wrists. While sitting at your desk, stretch your right arm out in front of you and bend your wrist downward so that your straightened fingertips point toward the floor. Lightly pull your fingers upward until you feel a gentle stretch. Repeat on the opposite side.
Many of us work to maintain straight posture, but after hours spent sitting in the same position, it’s easy to slowly begin to slouch as the day goes on. Performing this stretch will help alleviate back pain caused by slouching as it stretches the muscles in your back and sides and make it easier to improve posture by helping muscle tissues in the back to realign. While sitting in your chair or standing behind it, lace your fingers together and upward. Open your arms and stretch them outward as you move them down.
Make a point to integrate stretching into your daily work routine. Turn stretching into a habit by tying stretching into something you regularly do like checking emails or filing invoices, or consider setting a timer on your computer to remind you to get up each hour and get your blood circulating. Start out slowly — you shouldn’t cause yourself pain, and hold each stretch for 10 to 15 seconds to begin. Do as many reps as you feel comfortable with.
Find other ways to get physical activity into your work day. Adding a walk to your lunch break is a great way to get yourself moving, and ask a coworker to join you to help build the habit with someone else. Another way to ease the toll that working a sedentary job can take is to make sure that your desk and chair are ergonomically sound. Incorporate physical tasks into your day when possible, like choosing parking spots further away from your location or walking to the next furthest subway stop if you’re able to physically. If you’re a position of leadership at your workplace, provide information about the benefits of stretching during the work day to keep your team happy and healthy.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.