Sitting, they say, is the “new smoking.” If you regularly sit for more than eight hours a day — as many of us with office or driving
jobs do — you are at a similar risk
for heart disease, cancer and diabetes, just as if you smoked a couple of packs a day for years.
But there’s a more immediate reason to get up out of that chair: Sitting for too long can make you feel just awful.
Prolonged sitting in a hunched-over-the-keyboard position causes postural problems that can trigger pain in your back, neck and knees. It has even been linked to stomach trouble, irritability, insomnia and depression.
You can do something to stay healthy. Here are six daily exercises to counteract chronic symptoms of butt-in-chair-too-long syndrome.
Stand with your back to a sturdy chair, feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your arms straight out in front of you and parallel with the floor. Brace your abs. Slowly bend your knees and sit your hips back. When your butt touches the chair seat, don’t sit; instead, press up through your heels to stand. Don’t use your hands or swing your torso for momentum. That’s one rep. Do three sets of 10 repetitions daily.
Quadruped Trunk Rotation
Get on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders, knees under your hips, back straight, head facing the floor. Place your right hand on the back of your head, elbow raised and pointing to the side. This is the starting position. Now, without arching your back, rotate your upper body toward the side of your elevated arm and raise your elbow as high as you can. Pause, then reverse the motion and rotate your torso in the opposition direction until your elbow points to your left hand. That’s one repetition. Do 10 and then repeat the exercise with your left hand on the back of your head.
This is one of the best exercises for strengthening the muscles that support your spine and preventing lower-back pain. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Rest your arms at your sides at 45-degree angles from your torso. Squeeze your butt muscles as you raise your hips by pushing through your heels. Stop when your hips form a straight line with your upper legs and chest. Pause for three seconds, engaging your core and glutes, then slowly lower to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do three sets of 10 reps daily.
The plank, another great core exercise to prevent lower back problems, also strengthens the shoulders, arms and glutes. Get on the floor in a pushup position with your back straight from head to heels. Now bend your elbows 90 degrees one at a time and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly underneath your shoulders. Hold this position for as long as you can — at least 30 seconds — and work up to 2 minutes. Do three times daily.
If you work at a desk, this exercise should be like brushing your teeth, something you do multiple times a day. It counteracts the tendency of the shoulders to roll inward as you round your back in a hunch over the keyboard. In the proper posture, you are sitting tall with your chest high as if there were a string from your chest to the ceiling pulling you up. This exercise will help you keep your shoulders back and chest high.
Stand with your back to a wall, heels about a foot away from the wall. Lean into the wall so your butt, upper back and head touch the wall. Bend your arms to right angles and raise them out to your sides about shoulder height against the wall. Keeping the backs of your hands and upper arms pressed into the wall, lower your elbows as far as you can toward your ribs, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Next, slide your arms over your head, keeping contact with the wall. Return to the starting position. That’s one repetition. Do 10 reps three times a day.
Does it surprise you? It’s easy; it’s free; and it’s arguably the most important exercise you should do every day. Dozens of clinical studies show it can melt pounds away, combat depression, enhance creativity, and improve brain function and sleep quality. Researchers have found vigorous walking or running resulted in reducing the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other symptoms of coronary heart disease.
To get the best health benefits, walk faster. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense walking in each day. You can even break it up into three 10-minute sessions. One way to up the intensity of a walk (especially useful when it’s raining or cold outside): Take the stairs. And to make it more fun, go with a buddy.
Jeff Csatari is the author of The 14-Day No Sugar Diet.