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Got a desk job? You'll need these 5 stretches.

July 26, 2011

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Sitting all day is a lot harder on your body than you might imagine. Repeatedly, studies link sedentary jobs to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Research from the American Cancer Society even found that regular exercise might not be able to counteract the dangers of sitting for eight hours every day.

On top of that, sitting all day can result in back and leg pain and poor posture. What can you do - short of quitting your job - to help alleviate the risks?

Start with your chair and your posture. Be sure your chair is low enough that your feet can rest flat on the ground with your knees 1-3 inches from the edge of the seat. Lean back slightly in your chair and adjust your position often.

Frequent stretching can also help alleviate pain related to sitting, raise your heart rate, and keep your blood flowing! Try a few of the exercises below and remember, stretching should be done slowly and should not hurt. Don't push your muscles too far or you may risk an injury.

1. Leg Lifts

Sitting in your desk chair, just lift and straighten one leg and slowly roll your ankle clockwise, then counterclockwise to stretch lower leg muscles and the hamstrings. Repeat with the opposite leg. It is amazing how tight your knees can get, especially if you sit cross-legged all day.

If you want to add a little muscle building to this stretch, straighten the leg then raise it off the chair slightly. Hold as long as you can. Rest and repeat.

2. Spine Twist

Sit with your feet flat on the floor. With your left hand, grasp the right arm rest. Exhale while you turn just your upper body to the right until you feel a stretch through the shoulder blades and left side of your back. Hold for 5 breathes and switch sides.

3. Wrist Stretch

This is particularly important for anyone with a desk job to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Stand in front of your desk and place your palms flat on the table so that your fingers point back towards your body. Keeping your hands where they are, take a few small steps back until you feel a good stretch through the underside of your lower arm. Hold for 5 breaths.

4. Shoulder Shrugs

Sit up straight and lift your shoulder to your ears. Squeeze your shoulders back and together, then slowly pull your shoulder down to stretch all around your shoulder blade. Rest and repeat.

5. Neck Tilts

Sitting on your chair, place your left hand, palm down, under your left sit bone. Gently lean your head to the right until you feel a light pull down the left side of your neck.

To increase the stretch, left your right arm and wrap it over your head so your right hand is resting on your left ear. Do not pull, but let the weight of your arm increase the stretch. Repeat on the other side.

The most important stretch is just walking around - even just one minute of standing or walking for every 30 minutes of work can make a difference. Hand deliver that message instead of emailing. Take the stairs or go outside during lunch - whatever you do, just get moving!

How do you stay fit and pain-free at your desk?