In this age of constant connectedness and digital everything, many of us spend the bulk of our days sitting down and staring at laptops and phones. This fact only increased during the pandemic, as the world transitioned to a work-from-home setup that saw us living and working in the same space, tethered to our devices. While working from home brings convenience and freedom, it can also be a literal pain in the neck.
“If you sit for an extended period of time, you’ll most likely develop terrible posture,” says Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon at the New York-area Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care. He notes that poor posture, like slumping in your chair, often leads to chronic back, shoulder and neck pain, as well as poor circulation.
The effects of prolonged sitting can be scarier than aches and pains — it can also lead to the formation of a blood clot in a vein, which is called deep vein thrombosis, says Okubadejo. “Sitting for too long can also increase your risk of chronic health problems such as some cancers, diabetes and heart disease. Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, and sitting for too long is probably killing you slowly,” warns Dr. Okubadejo. You may also gain weight and lose strength in your muscles, particularly the glutes and legs. It’s enough to make you want to stand up and move around for a while.
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. Dr. Okubadejo provides some tips to reduce your sedentary time and keep you moving throughout the day.
- Stand up or walk around while you are talking on the phone.
- Get up from your desk once every 30 minutes and walk or move for 5–10 minutes before sitting back down.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever you can. Climbing the stairs is a great weight-bearing activity that benefits your heart, muscles and bones.
- Don’t loop around the parking lot until you find the best spot. Park farther away from where you are going so you can walk longer distances.
- Consider purchasing a standing workstation and split your time between sitting and standing while working.
Despite your best efforts, it’s difficult to avoid those work-from-home pains entirely. Jessica Mazzucco, a New York-based certified fitness trainer and founder of The Glute Recruit, breaks down five common ailments with advice on how to relieve each.
Shoulders: “The shoulders can become stiff after hours of sitting at a computer,” says Mazzucco. “A simple standing shoulder stretch can help alleviate some stiffness and help with tension.” Stand up straight and cross your left arm across your chest and hold with your right hand for 15 seconds. Repeat with your right arm across your chest as many times as you desire.
Wrists: “Excessive typing can cause the wrists to cramp up,” says Mazzucco. Position your right hand in front of you with your fingers spread wide and your palm facing forward. Bend your wrist down, so your fingers are pointing toward the ground. Take your left hand and pull your right-hand fingers toward your chest. Maintain this stretch for 15 seconds, and then repeat with your left hand.
Neck: “Neck rolls are easy and effective stretches to loosen your neck muscles,” says Mazzucco. Start with your head tilted to the right side, and roll your head forward and to the left. Repeat to the right side. Perform five rolls to each side or until the tension in your neck is lessened.
Lower Back: If your lower back is tight from all that sitting, try this: “Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and your back straight and shoulders back. Cross your right leg over your left with your right knee bent upward. Place your left hand/arm on the outside of your right leg and twist your upper body to the right. Hold this position for 15 seconds, and then repeat to the left side.”
Full Body: “The child’s pose stretch is a versatile exercise that stretches not only the back, but the thighs, shoulders and hips,” says Mazzucco. Kneel on the floor with your butt touching the back of your calves and your legs pressed together or spread apart in a V. Lean all the way forward with your arms outstretched so your abdomen lays across the top of your thighs. Inhale through your nose for five seconds and exhale through your mouth for another five. Repeat this breathing pattern in child’s pose for one minute.
To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity.