Welcome to our practical guide on staying active at work, featuring some excellent desk stretches you can try.
According to research conducted by Professor Alan Hedge of the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, around 86% of office workers spend between four and nine hours sitting at their desks every day. To put these figures into perspective, this adds up to two months of being completely sedentary each year. On top of that, there’s the world beyond work to consider. On average, UK viewers spend over three hours watching TV after work each night, which adds up to a significant amount of time assuming the sitting position.
The effects of a day behind the desk
The effects of sedentary behaviour are becoming an increasing problem. Scientists have gone as far as to say that those who spent more than eight hours a day ran the same risks of dying as smokers and those classed as obese. In addition, researchers found that extended periods of sitting can increase the risks of illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. If that wasn’t enough, there are also muscular-skeletal problems that can be compounded through excessive physical inactivity. However, despite all the doom and gloom, the good news is that even a basic level of exercise can help to mitigate all the scary stuff. If you’re one of those confined to sitting behind a desk, then read on to find out about the best exercises to do at your desk to keep you active at work.
Are you leading a sedentary lifestyle?
A survey from the British Heart Foundation has revealed that at least 20million people are failing to reach the Government-recommended exercise guidelines of a mere two and half hours of moderate exercise per week. In medical terms, this means that one-third of the UK population is leading a sedentary lifestyle. While there are factors, such as desk-based jobs, to take into account, the figures don’t make for happy reading.
However, if you think 21st Century technology is at the root of the problem, then you’ll need to reconsider. Humanity’s continuing desire to make life easier for itself dates back to the 4th Millennium BC, in what was Lower Mesopotamia. As far as archaeologists are concerned, it all started here, with the invention of the wheel. As we advanced, we found increasing methods to take the physical exertion out of day-to-day life and enjoy more spare time.
The benefits of exercise
While finding ways to ease our physical burdens can account for some of the problems, it’s also worth taking a look at medicine. Travel back in time to Medieval England, and the average life expectancy for men was 24 while, for women, it was 33. Just 700 years later, the advances in medicine have almost tripled those figures for both sexes. However, while you might be alive, it doesn’t mean that you’ll have a decent quality of life. Research conducted by the University of Birmingham and King’s College London found that staying active can help to stave off the negative impacts of ageing. They undertook tests on young people aged between 20 and 36 and older people aged between 57 and 80. The results conclusively found that those who undertook regular exercise retained muscle mass and strength, didn’t put on excessive levels of fat, maintained healthy levels of cholesterol, and even boasted stronger immune systems.
Exercising for your mental health
The effects of exercise aren’t limited to physical health. With the coronavirus pandemic taking its toll on people’s mental health, the benefits of exercise have been thrown into the spotlight. Taking regular exercise has been found to have a positive impact on a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. According to research, getting the blood pumping regularly decreases the physical and mental consequences of the body’s responses to anxiety. In addition, exercise can also help to alleviate stress-related conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. On top of that, it can also aid a process known as ‘neurogenesis.’ This is the regeneration of neurons in the hippocampus area of the brain, which can help to combat the effects of depression and anxiety.
Whether we like it or not, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the benefits of remaining sedentary. However, for many people, this information doesn’t measure up against the fact that we need to work and earn money, regardless of how long we find ourselves sitting in front of a monitor or screen. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym or go for a brisk walk during your lunch break, the good news is that desk exercises and stretches can help to mitigate the effects of sitting still for extended periods. What’s even better is that many of them are discreet, and your co-workers won’t even notice that you’re doing them. Let’s take a look at five simple desk exercises to at your desk and keep Old Father Time at bay.
- Desk stretches
Even if you’re exercising while sitting behind your desk, it’s essential to let your body know that you’re about to kick things off. Desk stretches help to loosen the muscles and tendons. In turn, this increases the flow of blood to your target areas, which improves your flexibility and gives you a greater range of motion. Not only that, but a few simple desk stretches will also help relieve any cramps and aches you’ve picked up at your keyboard. Alternatively, ask your boss to check out the Avansas website and buy one of our ergonomic chair backrests to help your posture.
- Start by raising both your arms above your head and pointing your fingers towards the ceiling. Hold your hands together in the way that’s most comfortable for you before leaning to the left until you feel a ‘pull’ along your right side. Slowly return to your original position, and then repeat the stretch on the opposite side. Continue until the stretches feel more bearable.
- Once you’ve completed your side stretches, keep your arms in the air. Take a deep breath in and, as you exhale, bend forward so that you almost achieve the shape of the letter ‘C.’ As you inhale, arch your back as far as is comfortable. This exercise helps mitigate the spinal problems caused by sitting hunched over your desk. Continue until you feel looser and ready to take things up a notch.
Unfortunately, we’re not looking at hummus or blue cheese dips. These dips are designed to improve the strength and definition of your arms and improve your core muscle tone.
- If your office chair has arms, then this is one of the best desk exercises to keep you from losing muscle mass. Begin by placing each hand on the centre of each arm-rest. Next, lift your feet off the floor until you can feel the tension in your stomach. Use your arms to raise you from your seat until your arms are straight. Hold that position for as long as is comfortable before lowering yourself back into your chair and placing your feet back on the ground. To begin with, we’d recommend doing this five times and building up the repetitions over time.
Posture is an essential part of overall wellbeing. Too many of us slouch while seated, and this can lead to a variety of spinal and musculoskeletal problems, such as back pain. However, it’s not all about the back, as these desk exercises will prove.
- Sitting straight with your shoulders back lets your spinal muscles know that you haven’t forgotten about them. However, to take things to another level, tense your stomach muscles for 60 seconds before relaxing them. Doing this as often as you can during a day’s work will help to tone your abdominal muscles and burn off belly fat.
- Raising calves
While the obvious part of the body to work on tends to be the one that’s above the desk, it’s important not to ignore what’s going on down below. Gym bunnies pay an extraordinary amount of attention to their calves, but sitting behind a desk doesn’t mean you can’t, too.
- Rather than being a calorie-burner, this exercise is designed to tone muscles that we tend to forget about. Begin by sitting up straight and with your legs perpendicular to your hips, with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise your heels from the floor, keeping your toes where they were until you can feel things begin to tighten. Equally slowly, lower your feet back to your original position. If you want to make things more challenging, put your hands on your knees and create some resistance.
- The secret stroll
There’s no doubting that walking is one of the best and easiest forms of exercise you can take, whether it’s a stroll to work or hitting the treadmill. However, being tied to your desk doesn’t mean you can’t recreate the benefits.
- This exercise could be as simple as it gets. However, to get all the advantages, your posture must be as correct as it can be. Sit straight in your chair, with your shoulders back and your hips pressed against the back of your seat. Once you’re comfortable, lift your preferred leg, pause, and then lower it. Follow with your next leg and repeat the sequence until you feel you’ve had enough. Doing this a few times a day will get your heart working and even improve the tone of your gluteus maximus. If you’re not sure what that is, we suggest you Google it!
While working at a desk can make you feel as though you’re not getting any exercise, our five desk exercises could see you looking and feeling better than you have done in a long time.