active sitting

Good news – ‘active sitting’ could be the new solution to that deskbound job. We ask the experts how you can start.

You’ve heard the news. Sitting for prolonged periods of time is detrimental to our health – increasing our risk of diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

It can also leave us with aches and pains every day. “Sitting tends to limit our movement – it can tighten our muscles, particularly our hip flexors and the muscles in our neck,” explains Tim Button, a chiropractor for the British Chiropractic Association.

But if your work requires you to be desk-bound, what can you do to alleviate the effects? Try ‘active sitting’. “This is about subtly moving your muscles and joints whilst sitting down – you can be doing it and your colleagues will have no idea,” says Dr Nate Bogedain DC, a practitioner at ProBack. “It can improve your health, posture and flexibility without even leaving your chair.”

Here’s how to master the art in six steps…

1. First things first… sit properly

“Adjust your screen to eye level and sit all the way back in your seat with your shoulder blades against the backrest,” suggests Button. “Using the armrests on your chair can help your arms lie flat and your elbows rest level with the desk.” This reduces tension in your shoulders and neck. “And don’t forget to keep both feet flat on the floor uncrossed with your knees at right angles,” says Dr Bogedain.

Working on a laptop? “I’d recommend investing in a laptop stand or, alternatively, place sturdy books under your device so that you can adjust the level of the screen to your eyeline,” says Button. “Plugging in a standard keyboard and mouse can also help you work in a more ‘back-friendly’ position.”

2. Tackle the hunch with a back stretch

So many of us hunch over our desks and collapse inwards. You can help to reverse this with a quick back and shoulder stretch. “Firstly, sit up straight with both feet flat on the floor, then put both hands on the back of your head,” explains Button. “Push your elbows back and then shrug your shoulders up and down. To stretch your back further, keep your arms in place and lean side to side like a pouring teapot.” Try doing this 10-15 times.

3. Limber up with shoulder rolls

“Strengthen your upper back and maintain your flexibility with some simple shoulder rolls,” suggests Dr Bogedain. “Try 10-15 of these. Then, pretend you’re holding a pen between your shoulder blades and tighten them for 5-10 seconds. Do 12-15 repetitions of this squeezing movement.”

4. Boost circulation with some clever kit

“Invest in a hand gripper (an exercise tool that helps to increase grip strength) and use it at your desk to relieve tension in your forearms and increase circulation in your hands,” says Dr Bogedain. “Or, if you’re working from a standing desk, one minute of calf raises will keep those muscles warm.”

5. Wake up sleepy sitting muscles by flexing

One-minute blasts of activity throughout the day can make a real difference to your neglected sitting muscles, recommends Dr Bogedain. “Pull in and tighten your abs for 30 seconds. Release, and repeat 10 times. Then, squeeze your glutes for 30 seconds and repeat for 10.” This will also encourage you to sit taller in your chair.

6. Stretch your hips with a quick fold

To give your outer hip muscles a much-needed stretch, yoga teacher Michael DeCorte suggests crossing your right foot over your left knee. “Keeping your right foot flexed, sit tall and hinge forward at your hips with a flat back,” he says. “Hold the stretch for several deep breaths, before repeating on the other side.”

If you need help remembering to move and stretch, why not set reminders in your work calendar? That way, you can prioritise your active sitting as much as the next meeting!

Learn more about the importance of looking after your muscles with our guide to stretching.

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