Do you sit for more than 3-4 hours per day? If so, that’s longer than is healthy according to most health experts, and you’re increasing your chances of heart disease, cancer, arthritis, obesity, accelerated aging, muscular tightness and postural issues, just to name a few.
We sit at work, we sit on the way to and from work, we sit down to eat lunch, we sit down on the couch to chill out after work, and then we sit down for dinner.
We live in a world which is very conducive to excess sitting, so its a good idea to pay some attention to these health risks and skew our lifestyle habits in a slightly more favourable way.
Here are seven simple daily habits and mobility drills to help you counteract the consequences of sitting.
1. Lunge and rotate
The lunge and rotate addresses several things specific to sitting all at the same time. It’s one of my staples for desk workers as it’s a great bang for your buck exercise.
In the deep lunge position, we open up and stretch the hip flexors on the back leg, we stretch the glutes and adductors on the front leg, and promote extension and rotation through our thoracic spine or upper back. All of these movements are great for counteracting seated desk posture.
Make sure you are optimising your position by adopting both a long and wide stride to really open up the hips. Just keep a vertical shin on your front leg for good alignment.
Aim for 5-10 rotations each side.
2. Hinge, hold and stretch
This one requires some body awareness. For those who struggle with the concept of a ‘hip hinge’, it might take a bit of practise to get it right, but it’s a very beneficial input for those who sit at a desk all day, especially if you get back pain or tightness.
Stand up with feet at hip width, with soft knees. Break or hinge at the hips whilst keeping your back muscles engaged and spine in neutral position.
You should be feeling a stretch in the hamstrings and engaging the postural muscles in your back to prevent you from rounding over.
Building up some muscular fatigue is normal after holding this position for a while. Hold for 10-30 seconds with shoulder blades squeezed back, and then 10-30 seconds with arms outstretched. Rest and repeat. Build it up over time.
3. Deep Squat
The deep squat is a position that will tell you a lot about the current state of your body. It requires a perfect blend of mobility and stability though all the important joints and segments of your body. We are all able to perform a deep squat as young children, but modern life starts to compromise our joint range of motion as we grow up and limit the way we use our bodies.
If you’re a bit stiff, your body will compensate by lifting your heels off the floor, rounding your back and caving in your knees. You might need to do this with support initially. You can support yourself by holding onto something to stop you from falling backwards, and only going down as low as you can tolerate.
Like everything, start somewhere and build upon it. We can all aim to maintain the ability to hang out in a deep squat position for several minutes.
It sounds simple, but dysfunctional breathing is an often-overlooked issue, albeit a very common one. There are many forms of dysfunctional breathing patterns but common issues are breathing in through the mouth, and upper chest breathing instead of diaphragmatic or belly breathing.
The sitting position lends itself to developing poor breathing habits and along with that a whole host of health issues like muscle tightness, mobility restrictions, lack of core stability, high blood pressure, elevated stress response, tiredness, lethargy, poor oxygenation of the body – the list goes on. To wrap your head around correct diaphragmatic breathing its best to lie flat on your back with your knees bent, and place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
Close your eyes and imagine you have a balloon in your belly.
As you breathe in through your nose, imagine your belly inflating or rising. There should be minimal movement in the chest. As you exhale your belly should go down.
Once you can do this, focus on slowing down your breathing to a count of 4-5 inhale and 4-5 exhale. This will actually help you calm your nervous system and make beneficial physiological changes within your body relating to your stress response. This can take some practise.
Try to become more aware of how you’re breathing throughout your day, and even dedicate some time everyday to chill out, de-stress and do some belly breathing. I’ve seen people literally double their mobility just by doing a few minutes of slow belly breathing. This can be a game changer.
Walking is great for you, and it’s an ideal type of movement to offset sitting, so take the opportunity whenever you can. Many people can greatly increase the incidental physical activity they accumulate throughout the week just by making small tweaks in their daily routine.
If you sit at a desk for a large part of the day, get up and take a walk for a few minutes every 30-60 minutes. Walk to work or get off at the bus stop earlier than your usual stop to get in some extra walking. Park your car further away from your destination. Take the stairs whenever possible. If you read books, try audiobooks instead and listen to them while you go for a walk. Think of ways you can add in some extra walking to your routine – it will add up over time.
6. Pull more than push
If you go to the gym and do any sort of strength training, this is a good one to keep in mind. Most people (especially guys), dedicate a lot of their gym time to ‘pushing’ exercises, however if you’re sitting at a desk all day, its much more important that we do ‘pulling’ exercises (like a seated row).
Pulling exercises will strengthen the postural muscles on the back of our body, the same ones that get weak and tight from rounded desk posture. Pushing exercises, like the bench press, can actually exacerbate the rounded shoulder, hunched back posture that’s inherent to sitting. A good rule to stick by is to include two pulling exercises for every pushing exercise.
7. Get off the couch!
Do you really need to adopt the same sitting position when you’re at home watching TV in your spare time? Try to make a commitment to yourself to not sit on your couch for one week or two weeks (or a month!) and instead sit on the floor. What you’ll find is you’ll naturally shuffle around your sitting position anyway, but you can also use this time as an opportunity to stretch and perform the above mobility drills while you’re watching TV. Just try not sitting on your couch for a while and see what happens.