By now you’ve surely heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking,” meaning that it poses a far greater health risk than people recognize. (While it seems unthinkable today, once upon a time it was common for physicians to appear in cigarette ads.)
A growing body of research indicates that sitting for eight hours (or more) a day can be just as hard on your body (if not harder) than doing manual labor. When you sit and slouch, the muscles in your upper back stretch out. When you do this every day, something called “creep” sets in—that is, long-term stretching of a muscle. When a muscle is stretched out too much, it doesn’t want to be torn, and its response is to spasm and tense up so it can’t be stretched any more. It’s your body trying to guard and lock down that area.
That’s why I recommend everyday stretches to relieve creep.
One simple tip to keep yourself from slouching is to put a lumbar support or a small pillow in the small of your low back. The pressure it exerts against your low back will force you to stay upright through your upper back. Also, try not to sit for longer than a half hour at a time. I tell my patients to set an alarm on their phone for every 20 to 30 minutes. When the alarm goes off, get up, stretch out, get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, do something else to move around. Even if you stand up for 30 seconds and then sit back down, that is much better than prolonged sitting.
These six everyday stretches will help you when you must sit for long periods of time:
1. Lateral Flexion
Bring your ear to your shoulder and stretch as far as you can without pain. If it is too painful, back off the stretch. Hold for 15 seconds. Do 2 repetitions on each side.
2. Rotation with Flexion