Many of us spend several hours of every day sat down… at a desk, a table, a VDU, in a car, a train, a bus… or just flaked out in an armchair at the end of a tiring day – even when for most of it you’ve been sat down!
It’s amazing how exhausting sitting all day can be!
Being sat down for several hours at a time causes a whole series of physiological changes to occur within your body. For example…
- your muscles will stiffen and ache.
- there’s strain on your neck, shoulders & back, causing aches & pains. Your spine will change its curvature – from an upright and correct S-shape at the beginning of the day to a tilted-forward C-shape as you tire, putting added stress on your body.
- your joints..the liquid that lubricates them, called ‘synovial fluid’, is only produced through movement, so sitting all day causes your joints to ‘dry out’. You’ll notice this when you stand up after a long period sat down. Your body creaks and groans to begin with but as you loosen up with some stretching and mobilising movements the stiffness disappears as your joints become lubricated.
- your blood circulation becomes sluggish, with blood pooling in your lower limbs…this may cause your legs and feet to swell, causing aches and pains. It also puts strain on your heart, as it tries to pump the blood around the body. The mechanisms that return the blood from your extremities don’t work so well when you’re sat down for long periods – your breathing becomes shallow and your leg muscles are not helping to squeeze blood back through the veins to your heart. You may even feel faint, or light-headed when you stand up after a long period of sitting.
- this blood pooling in your lower limbs can also affect the oxygen supply to your brain, affecting concentration and mental alertness.
In short, a long day of sitting can leave you exhausted – and the last thing you feel like doing when you get home is an exercise workout!
But really, that’s exactly what your body needs to re-vitalise it.
Even better, if your lifestyle demands that you sit down for most of the day, then try to remember that your body needs a regular break in order to prevent these changes from occurring. A simple exercise programme of stretching and muscle toning, performed at regular intervals through the day, will help keep you alert, efficient and refreshed. Some of these exercises can even be done whilst you’re sat down.
‘Fit to Sit’ Exercises
The following series of exercises can be done in your workplace or at home – you don’t need to change into sportsgear. They will help prevent some of the problems caused by ‘sitting down’ all day, help relieve stress and keep you mentally alert, helping you to work more effectively and more efficiently. Throughout this programme, try to maintain good respiratory control by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth in a deep but relaxed manner.
- Stand n’Stretch
From a seated position with hands on knees, stand upright and stretch both arms above your head, breathing in as you do so. Hold this stretched position for 2-3 seconds, then slowly breathe out and return to sitting. Repeat 10 times.
- Leg Swings
Stand sideways, hold on to back of chair with one hand for support. Keeping in an upright position:
Swing your outside leg forwards and backwards 10 times in a relaxed manner. Repeat with other leg. Do not bend forwards or swing upper body. This movement can be advanced by bringing the knee upwards towards the chest on the forward swing.
- Heel-Toe Lifts
Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hands by side, lift heels as far as possible, then rock back on to heels and lift front of foot as high as possible. Use chair-back for support. Repeat in a slow and controlled manner 10 times. (You can also do this exercise whilst you’re sat down)
- March-on-the Spot
At an easy pace, march on the spot, raising your knees as high as comfortably possible. Repeat for 20 steps.
- Shoulder Shrugs
Sitting or Standing with feet shoulder-width apart: hands by side, slowly pull shoulders up towards ears as hard as possible, then push down as far as possible. Repeat 10 times.
- Arm Circling
Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, arms outstretched sideways, slowly rotate arms backwards, downwards, forwards and upwards in a large circular manner. Repeat 5 times. Change direction and repeat a further 5 times.
- Neck Rotation
Sitting or Standing with feet shoulder-width apart: hands by side, turn head slowly sideways to the right as far as comfortably possible, nod twice, and then turn head to the left and nod twice. Repeat 5 times.
- Arm Raises
Sitting or Standing with feet shoulder-width apart: interlock fingers, turn palms outwards. Slowly raise hands above head without bending arms and stretch upwards .. breathing in. Hold for 3 seconds then lower .. breathing out. Repeat 5 times.
- Chair Sit-Ups
From a normal seated position in your office chair, slither down so that you are sat near the front of the seat, reclining backwards, knees bent at 90o with feet flat on floor, hands on thighs. Now tighten your stomach muscles, curl forwards and slide your hands up your thighs to touch your knees. Briefly hold this ‘half sit-up’ position for 2 to 3 seconds, feeling the tension in your abdominal muscles, then return to relaxed recline. Repeat up to 10 times.
- Wall Press
Stand facing wall, arm length away, feet shoulder width apart. Rest hands against wall and slowly bend elbows until nose touches wall. Slowly straighten arms and return to standing. Repeat up to 10 times.
Intensity: don’t work your muscles to exhaustion, exercise at a moderate level of exertion. The exercises are not intended to make you hot and sweaty, but rather to stretch, loosen and tone your body so that you feel better and are ready return to the ‘sedentary’ job in hand. At no time should any pain or discomfort be felt in any part of your body. If any of the repetitions stated are too hard for you, then complete the exercise to a comfortable level of exertion for you.
Regularity: the exercise programme should be done as a whole, or in part, every day….in-between meetings..during your break..at regular slots during your working day…at home. For some, who may be sat at work for 8 hours a day, they are best performed 2, 3 or even more times a day.
Mix n’Match: either complete all the exercises at one go, or if you prefer, select 4 or 5 at a time to perform.
If your lifestyle is one of long periods of continuous sitting, this can lead to a whole series of adaptations to your body that are not good for your health and wellbeing……
So, in summary, make sure that you’re fit to sit all day – and can handle the daily stresses and strains of sedentary living with vigour and alertness. Energy breeds energy!