SALT LAKE CITY— The daily grind of sitting at a desk Monday through Friday can get old pretty quickly. Try mixing up the workday with these simple stretches you can do at your desk.
Healthy habits from the start
From swimming, biking, and surfing, to hiking and golfing, Mark Olsen can't seem to sit still — until now.
Olsen finished grad school and landed a full-time job in December with Intermountain Healthcare. He has a fancy title as a clinical research project coordinator, but basically, he’s a professional number cruncher.
“It’s a lot of sitting—it’s not what I’m used to,” Olsen said. He said it’s taken some adjusting from school life where he had a little more flexibility.
“Is this real life? Is this what people do nine to five?” he joked.
But the transition has been easier with the help of Intermountain Healthcare’s Liz Young. She's a yoga instructor at the LiVe Well Fitness Center and is teaching Olsen stretches he can do at his desk.
"There's a tagline now that sitting is the new smoking," she said. “It's been linked to heart disease, obesity, shortness of life, depression, anxiety."
Young said it's important to get up from your chair at least once every hour. “Just do some sort of movement-- like if it's just getting up and maybe doing some of those hip circles, or if it's just wrapping your arms around the back of your chair," she described.
Young encourages people who may feel a little awkward about stretching in an open office space to not be shy. “It’s your health,” she said. “You might start a new trend in your office.”
Young said a lot of people who work at a desk carry a lot of tension in their shoulders, neck, and back. She encourages people to make sure their computer sits at eye level. Young said leaning down to look at your keyboard adds extra weight and tension to your neck.
Olsen often opts to stand at his desk when he is tired of sitting, but Young encourages people who use standing desks to incorporate non-stationary activities throughout their workday.
Stretches to Try at Your Desk(Courtesy of Liz Young, Intermountain Healthcare LiVe Well Center)
1. Hip circles – Move your hips in a hula hoop action to free your hips from sitting for an extended period.
2. Standing Figure Four – If you have the luxury of space, lay on the floor in a figure four is more practical for most people. If doing a standing figure four, you can add a spinal twist for spinal flexion.
3. Chest and shoulders – Reach around behind your chair, grab hands and extend backward followed with deep breaths.
4. Chest – Raise your hands into a high mountain pose with wide circles and slight backbend.
5. Side body – While standing, pull your right hand to your left wrist and lean slightly to the right. Then repeat by pulling your left hand to your right wrist and lean slightly to the left, followed with deep breaths.
6. Eyes – Look away from your screen, rub your hands briskly together to create heat, cupping your palms over eyes for a minute with three full, deep breaths. Again, look away from your screen rolling eyes clockwise and then counterclockwise.
7. Spinal Flexion – Bend your arms at chest level, slowly moving left to right. Or, try a standing figure four with a spinal twist
8. Forward Fold – Hinging from your hips, hang and shake your head “yes” and ”no,” grabbing your elbows and swing slowly side to side for 10-20 seconds with deep breaths.
9. Neck Traction – Clasp your hands at the base of your spine (occipital ridge) and add traction. Follow with three slow deep breaths
10. Push-ups – Learn forward onto your desk or the wall and push-up off the desk with your arms.
11. Rest/Restore – Lay on your back, and move your behind up to the wall with your legs up on the wall and your arms out to a T. Close your eyes, set a timer for 1-3 minutes, and focus on deep, full breaths.
12. Hands/Wrists– Extend your arms and hands and lightly press back on your fingertips. Or, you’re your wrist in circles clockwise and counterclockwise.
Olsen likes to take a water break or go for a walk outside the building periodically to get away from his desk. He said it helps clear his mind.
“Mostly at the end of the day, my brain is fried because it's a lot of hard work mentally," he said.
Young said setting time aside to be mindful is worth it, even if you're on a deadline. “You can think clearer, you can get your work done better, but sitting under pressure is not healthy," she said. “It's also been proven that you're more effective when you're in a better space.
She encourages people to check their breathing patterns to avoid shortness of breath and then return to your project with a new intention.
Olsen said it’s easy to get absorbed in his work. “If I'm swamped here at work, I could spend all day in my desk just seated here,” he said. He said he is trying to be more aware of his stress levels. He consciously relaxes his shoulders if he finds he is tense.
"I can already tell it's making a huge difference in my life," Olsen said. “Your health comes first and that drives your ability to do everything.”
Susan Martini also practices yoga at the LiVe Well Fitness Center. She is on the opposite end of her career. She just retired after nearly 40 years as a pediatrician and looking back, she said she wishes she took more time for herself during the workday.
“I think it's a mistake not to because I think that the damage is going to be cumulative over your lifetime,” Martini said. “If you really take the time to take care of yourself, I think that you'll have a longer career [and] you'll have less injuries."
Martini had a hip fracture five years ago and recently had foot surgery. She thinks she could have avoided some of her pain by stretching regularly throughout the day.
"I think that we're so frantic and trying to please everybody that we don't take the time that we need. But in fact, we could take that time," she said. “If you take the time, it will be time well spent.”