Fitness for Desk Warriors: Exercises and Stretches for Sedentary Lifestyles

If you spend a lot of time at a desk, odds are you sit with your shoulders hunched for hours at a time. Doing this every day can cause back pain, headaches, tension, and tightness in your back, neck, and shoulders. Here are some exercises that can help!

Sitting for Too Long Is Risky Business

Here are just a few reasons why sitting too much can affect your health.

  • It’s not good for your cardiovascular system: People who sit often are at higher risk of heart disease.
  • Sitting a lot means you aren’t burning calories, which may change how your body reacts to insulin. When this happens, the risk of diabetes goes up.
  • DVT, or deep vein thrombosis, is common among people who sit for long periods of time. DVT is a blood clot in your leg that becomes more severe if it breaks free and lodges in your lung. What makes DVT even scarier is that some people have no symptoms, so it’s important to get up and move around.
  • No matter how comfortable you make your desk area, our bodies aren’t designed to sit for long periods of time, so stretching is vital for keeping your muscles, especially your back, happy.
  • Regular breaks from sitting at your desk increase productivity while giving the eyes a break.

Time to Stretch

Try to incorporate a combination of these stretches into your daily – or weekly – routine.

Chest Stretch

If you spend a lot of your day hunched over, try this chest stretch.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Move your arms behind you and, if you can, lace your fingers together.
  • Straighten your arms and gently lift your hands a few inches until you feel a stretch in your chest.
  • Hold for 10-30 seconds.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

Shoulder Shrug

Our shoulders and neck tend to hold a lot of stress. This exercise gets the blood moving.

  • Sit or stand with your back straight and your shoulders back.
  • Lift your shoulder toward the ears, squeezing them as hard as you can.
  • Hold for 1-2 seconds and roll them down as you relax.
  • Repeat for 8-10 reps.
  • End the exercise by rolling your shoulders forward and backward several times.

Upper Back

Almost any back stretch you can fit into your day is a good idea. This particular stretch targets your upper back, where we tend to hold a lot of tension when sitting at a desk.

  • Start seated or standing.
  • Stretch your arms straight out and rotate your hands so that your palms face away from each other.
  • Cross your arms so that your palms are pressed together. Clasp your fingers together. If twisting your arms doesn’t feel good, lace your fingers together.
  • Contract your abs and round the back, reaching away with your arms as you relax your head down.
  • Don’t collapse, but instead, imagine you’re curving up and over an imaginary ball.
  • Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds.

Spinal Twist

If you’ve ever experienced a tight and achy lower back, try this stretch out.

  • Start in a seated position with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Contract your abs and gently rotate your torso toward the right.
  • Use your hands on the armrest or seat of the chair to deepen the stretch.
  • Only twist as far as you comfortably can and keep your back straight and your hips square.
  • Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat 5-10 times on each side.

Neck Stretch

Holding neck tension can lead to headaches and upper back pain, but watching your posture and this stretch can help.

  • Start in a sitting position with your back straight and shoulders back.
  • Reach down and grab the side of the chair with your right hand.
  • Gently pull while tilting your head to the left, feeling a stretch down the right side of your neck and shoulder.
  • Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat 5-10 times on each side.


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