Jay Palacio: 11 handy stretches & exercises to do at your desk

Story by Patrick W. Dunne + Photography by Mike Ritterbeck

You may have heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” That saying, coined by Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, claims that you lose one hour of your life for every half-hour that you sit. While the actual amount of damage that sitting does to your body is debatable, much scientific research has linked long periods of sitting to diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart attacks, and a shorter lifespan.

That is especially troubling because 80 percent of American workers sit at their desks for an extended amount of time. While an office job might not be as hard or dangerous as being in construction or some other physically challenging field, it indeed does have its risks. People who work at desk jobs and sit for long periods are particularly prone to back and neck aches and injuries in addition to all the aforementioned bad things.

The primary way to combat this sitting epidemic is by getting up and walking more often. An even better idea would be to invest in a sit-stand desk or a treadmill desk. However, these options aren’t always readily available for everyone, as many jobs keep people glued to their stations with immense amounts of work they have to do. Additionally, fancy high-tech ergonomic desks are quite often out of many people’s price range. Luckily, there is a great solution. Anyone can counteract the pains and ill effects of prolonged sitting times by doing a few simple desk stretches and exercises. Here are a few to try:

Let’s get crackin’

Head and Neck Stretches

[1] The Head Roll. Tilt your head back and swivel your neck to the right. Your head should lean in the way that your neck is moving. Doing the head roll three times to the right and then to the left should help you cope with neck pain that you might have gotten from sleeping.

[2] Yes and No. Pretend that you are answering “yes” and “no” questions in an exaggerated way by slowly nodding or shaking your head. When you move your head to one side, hold it for at least 15 seconds before going to the other position. Like the head roll workout, this is great for getting rid of the kinks in your neck.

Arms and Wrists

[3] The Prayer. Put your hands together as if you are praying or giving yourself a high-five. Then, stretch your arms up so that they are flat, your hands tightly held together. You can lift your elbows to help put more pressure on the wrist. Hold this position for a few seconds and then flip your hands upside-down to do a Reverse Prayer. Move your wrists upward to stretch the bottoms of your wrists.

[4] The One-Hand High Five. This next exercise is similar to the Prayer except that you will be stretching only one wrist at a time. Start by putting one arm straight out in front of you. Your palm should be perpendicular to your arms as if you are giving your co-worker a rigid high-five. With your other hand, grab your fingers and pull back. You should feel a stretch in your wrist. Now turn your outstretched hand so that your fingers face downward. Use the other hand to pull toward your body, and you should once again feel a stretch in your wrist.

[5] Wrist Circles. Grip your hands into tight fists and roll them around in circles. Do inward rolls with both hands for 30 seconds and then perform outward rolls for another 30 seconds. This exercise should help your wrists become more flexible, which is useful if you plan on typing or writing for long periods of time.

[6] The Arm Cross. In this exercise, you will stretch your arms across your body. Start by sticking your right arm straight outward. Use your left arm to grab your outstretched left arm. The best way to do this is to use the inside of your left elbow to grab your right elbow. Lift up your left forearm and pull back. Your arms should now resemble something of a cross or a plus sign, and you should feel a gentle stretch in your right arm. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then switch your arms.

[7] The Backscratcher. This easy stretch helps your upper arms. Start by putting one hand behind your head touching your back as if you are trying to scratch an itch in the middle of your back. With your free hand, push down on your shoulder so that you feel a good stretch in your upper arm.

[8] The Tower. Interlock your fingers and then turn your hands so that your palms are facing outward. Now stretch your elbows so that both of your arms are face out. Slowly rotate your arms so that your shoulders are above your head. Keep everything straight, and you should feel a slight stretch in your wrists and arms.

Legs and Feet

[9] The Leg Hug. While sitting, lift up one knee as high as you can. Then wrap your arms around your leg and pull it in tightly towards your chest. This stretch will help relieve some of the pain associated with sitting for long hours at your desk.

[10] Leg Lifts. Here is a stretch that you can do underneath your desk without anybody else even knowing. Sit up in your chair so that your back is straight and then lift both your legs from the ground. Straighten them out so that they are parallel to the floor and practice bending and straightening your knees over and over. Alternatively, you can slightly lift and rotate both your legs by moving them in a circular motion.

[11] Foot Rotation. This stretch is very similar to the neck and wrist rotations mentioned earlier in this article. To perform this exercise, all you have to do is lift your legs and rotate your feet. Swivel them around in circular motions. You can either have them rotate the same way or in different directions. After doing the exercise for 30 seconds, pause briefly, and turn them in the other direction.

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