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How does sitting impact posture?

Sitting for long periods of time can be hard on the musculoskeletal system leading to poor posture, tension headaches and neck and back aches and an inability to move as freely as before. Learn how to do it properly, for how long and what exercises to reverse the effects of sitting for long periods of time.

Let’s say you’re sitting in your typical office chair for 8 hours a day. What does that do to your body if not corrected.

  1. Shortens hip flexors, hamstrings, upper back/neck, and chest

  2. Weakens buttocks, abs/core, middle back, and deep neck retractors

  3. It leads to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and poor posture

  4. Insufficient oxygen intake which leads to reduced energy from a compressed diaphragm due to slouching

Our bodies are meant to move. Before the current age of computers and machine-aided agriculture, we had to gather our food or work in factories or at trade jobs. We were moving all the time – much more than we are now. A sedentary life of sitting does not help the human body at all.

How to sit properly at a desk

If you have to sit at a desk all day, here are some tips:

  1. Thighs parallel to the floor and pointing forward. If your chair is too high and you cannot adjust it any lower, place books under your feet for support. Helps distribute the weight of your body evenly on your sitting bones.

  2. Feet flat on the floor. Prevents tension in the calf muscles.

  3. Keep legs uncrossed. This may avert tilting of the spine.

  4. Elbows bent 90 degrees. Wards off elevation of the shoulders which stress the neck.

  5. Forearms parallel to the floor and wrists level. Fends off carpal tunnel syndrome as the wrists are not stuck in extension causing those muscles to overwork.

  6. Lean against the back of the chair to support the curve of the low back. If there is not enough support for your low back to keep its curve, or you are sitting on a kitchen chair, place a rolled-up towel behind your back.

  7. Keep top of monitor level with eyes. This is to prevent neck extension which puts stress on the back of the neck causing tightness in the upper back and tension headaches.

  8. Keep eyes 18-24 inches away from screen to avoid leaning forward to view screen. This will prevent what is called vulture neck – a tightness and shortening of the posterior neck muscles.

  9. Keep document holder’s same height as computer screen. Averts neck flexion which puts stress on the back of the neck.

  10. Place items within easy reach. This avoids bending and twisting of spine.

Even though this is the best way to sit, the body needs to take breaks every hour or so. Set a timer for 5 minutes every hour to walk around to loosen up stiff muscles and get the circulation going.

3 stretches to counteract sitting that can be done at the office

1. Standing hip flexor stretch – This will ease the tightness in the front of the hips allowing you to stand up more freely.

  1. Stand facing a wall approximately 2 feet from it and place your hands on the wall for balance

  2. With both feet pointing straight forward, stand back with the right leg approximately 1 foot

  3. Tuck your hips underneath you like a scared dog hiding its tail

  4. Hold this stretch 10 seconds

  5. Isometrically contract your hip flexor by trying to pulling your right foot forward and hold for 5 seconds

  6. Relax the contraction and lean your whole body forward slightly to a new stretch point and hold 10 seconds - don't arch the low back

  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 three more times

  8. The right buttock muscles should be tight during the entire process

  9. Repeat other side

2. Levator scapulae stretch – eases tightness in the upper neck

  1. Sit on a chair with your back and abs slightly tightened. Reach behind you with your right hand and grab the edge of the chair. Lean your upper body to the left, keeping your head upright until you feel a light pull in your right shoulder or upper arm.

  2. Now try to lift your right shoulder toward the ceiling for five seconds. Do not allow your body to move sideways. Relax for a couple of seconds and then lean your upper body a little more to the side. This is the correct starting point for the stretch.

  3. Rotate your head 45 degrees to the left and place your left hand over the top of your head and gently let the weight of your hand pull your head at an angle toward your left hip and hold for 10 seconds.

  4. Resist by carefully pushing the back of your head into your hand for 5 seconds.

  5. Relax the contraction and gently stretch the muscle for 10 seconds.

  6. Resist by carefully pushing the back of your head into your hand for 5 seconds.

  7. Relax the contraction and gently stretch the muscle for 10 seconds.

  8. Slowly raise head to starting position.

Chest stretch

  1. Raise your left arm up so the elbow is slightly above the shoulder

  2. Put the forearm on the inside of a door jam

  3. Keeping tall and with your belly button tight, take a step forward with your left leg until you feel a slight stretch in the chest muscle and hold for 10 seconds

  4. Without moving your body, press that elbow into the door for 5 seconds

  5. Relax the contraction and lean forward more by bending your front knee to a new stretch point

  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5

  7. Relax to the starting position and switch to the other arm

Doing these three stretches often during the day will help alleviate tension, increase flexibility and give your body a break that it deserves.


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