They say sitting is the new smoking, but really, they’re both terrible for you for different reasons. When you sit all day long at a desk, you’re not working your muscles, your blood isn’t getting optimal flow, and you’re going to become more fatigued because less oxygen is being delivered to your cells.
“When you are sitting all day like that (and this is true for people driving in their cars), you’re slumping down into your lumbar spine. A lot of times we get low back pain because of our posture but also because the muscles in our glutes and our abdominals just aren’t strong enough. We tend to rely on our low backs to do a lot of the heavy work,” says Los Angeles-based fitness professional Camille Loftin, who teaches yoga, dance and Pilates, as well as meditation and neurofeedback therapy.
It’s no secret that having a full-time desk job—especially in a place without a gym or walkable neighborhood—can put a serious dent in your health routine. One thing you can do is make the best of the situation by exercising where you can. Maybe that’s on a break or during a conference call. Maybe it means taking time to march around the office every now and then—even if you have to carry a pile of papers to make it look like you’re being productive.
“You definitely want to have some kind of activity in your day,” Loftin says. “I think that despite the lack of space you might have, there’s so many things you can do.”
Forward fold: Stand up, lean forward as far as you can, and aim for touching the floor with your hands—it’s OK to bend your knees if you need to. You can also grab opposite elbows and sway gently from side to side. Roll up and repeat as you deeply inhale and exhale. “That’s going to give your brain a shock of fresh blood. It is one of the best things you can do to kind of regenerate or reawaken the body and finish out those last couple of hours at work,” explains Loftin. “You have to have a healthy, flexible mobile spine to have longevity of life.”
Chair twists: Plant your feet firmly on the floor. Bring both your arms to one side of the chair, either holding on to the arm rest if you have one, or the side of the seat if you don’t. Twist your body to face that arm, and hold that for 10 full, deep, long breaths. Repeat on the other side. “It gives that mobility of your spine when you untwist. This is another exercise that gives your internal organs a shock of fresh blood. And so that’s really good for detoxification.”
Hip stretches: “Our lower backs and our hips start to get really junky once we’re sitting all day, slumped in our chairs and hunched over our computers,” Loftin says. “So one of the things that I really like to do is the seated pigeon.” Sitting in your chair, root one foot firmly on the floor. Cross your other leg over the knee, like you’re making a number four with your legs. You can use your hands to gently press down on the top knee to help open that hip. Hold that for 10 full breaths, and then you switch and do the other leg, holding that for 10 full breaths.
Stacking your bones: Strengthen your glutes and your core by sitting up really tall and placing your arms firmly on the armrests, if you have them. Your ears are over your shoulders, your shoulders are over your hips. Then squeeze your butt muscles 15 to 30 times, or as many as you can do. “A lot of times our gluteus medius is underdeveloped, and that’s when we get low back pain. So this will help target that,” says Loftin.
Wall presses: If you’re feeling tired and you want to get your heart rate up, you can walk over to a wall and press your palms firmly against it, with your hands shoulder-width distance apart. Straighten your back, pull in your belly, and bend your arms for a kind of push-up against the wall. Do 10 to 20.
Exercise isn’t just good for your body, it’s also good for your work—and your emotional state. Loftin says, “Scientists suggest that moving your body helps distribute or move trauma and move stress, and gives them an outlet to get out of your body, so that you can work more optimally and at a higher functioning level.”