The DeskDweller’s Repair Plan


By Andrew Heffernan |

There’s a monster in your home and it’s undermining your health. It’s in your car, and at the office, too. And at every restaurant or movie theater you visit.

In fact, there’s a good chance it’s with you at this very moment, sucking the life force right out of you.

What is this health-draining beast?

Your chair.

An avalanche of recent studies finds that sitting for long periods slows your metabolism, deforms your vertebral disks, and contributes to weight gain.

Sitting even lops time off your life expectancy: One 2011 study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that after the age of 25, every hour you spend sitting in front of the TV shortens your life by an average of 22 minutes — the equivalent of the damage done by smoking two cigarettes.

Every hour you spend sitting in front of the TV shortens your life by an average of 22 minutes — the equivalent of the damage done by smoking two cigarettes.

At home and in the office, you can reduce the impact of long periods of sitting by taking breaks from your chair every 20 minutes or so, climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, and otherwise standing whenever possible (standing desks are a great option).

But perhaps the best way to avoid health problems caused by sitting — and keep your posture from becoming permanently chair-shaped — is to incorporate an approach known as stretch-strengthening, says Chris Frederick, coauthor of Stretch to Win.

If you put in four-plus hours a day in front of a computer monitor, chances are you have specific head-to-toe postural changes that need attention beyond what you get on a treadmill or in the weight room.

Broadly speaking, says Frederick, “The flexors (the muscles along the front of your body) get short and tight. And the extensors (the muscles along the back) get overstretched and weak.”

The key to undoing the postural damage that results from desk-dwelling, then, is to do the opposite of sitting: Extend the flexors (that’s the “stretch” part) and contract the extensors (the “strengthening” part).

Even better, says Frederick, do both at once. “When you contract one set of muscles, the muscles on the opposite side of that joint relax deeply, creating a better stretch.”

Frederick designed these six stretch-strengthening drills to help reverse the limitations and weaknesses brought on by long days of desk-dwelling.

Depending on how quickly and vigorously you perform the moves, this do-anywhere workout can function as an at-work or at-home stress reliever, or an invigorating warm-up to more intense exercise.

The Desk-Dweller’s Workout: Stretch Strengthening in Action

 

In each of the following exercises, lengthen your back and stabilize your core throughout the movement. These moves should induce a comfortable stretch in your muscles. Stop at the first sign of discomfort in your joints. If one side is tighter than the other, repeat the stretch twice on that side.

Exhale and move into each stretch on a six-count, then inhale and move out of the stretch on a three-count.

Exhale and move into each stretch on a slow two-count, then inhale and move out of the stretch on a slow one-count.

1. The Hip Saver

  1.  Move in and out of the stretch as directed above, then repeat the sequence on the other side.

To intensify the stretch, reach your right arm directly overhead, or overhead and to the left, as you move into the stretch

2. The Chest Opener

 

  1.  Move in and out of the stretch as directed above, then repeat the sequence on the other side.

Bend directly to the side as you stretch; don’t twist or bend forward at all.

3. The Back Mobilizer

  1.  Move in and out of the stretch as directed above, then repeat the sequence on the other side.

Keep your head aligned with your spine throughout the movement.

4. The Huncher’s Helper

 

  1.  Move in and out of the stretch as directed on previous page, then repeat the sequence on the other side.

Back off the stretch if you feel any pain in the shoulder joint.

5. The Slouch Reliever

  1. Move in and out of the stretch as directed on previous page, then repeat the sequence on the other side.

Most of the rotation in this stretch should come from the chest, shoulders, and upper back. Let up if you feel strain or tension in your lower back.

6. The Shoulder Saver

 

 

  1. Move in and out of the stretch as directed on previous page, then repeat the sequence on the other side.

Don’t go into a full stretch of the chest before lifting your hand from the door frame — keep it mild.

Illustrations by Cindy Luu

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