Exercises You Can Do At Your Desk To Keep The Blood Flowing

Tensegrity Physical Therapy | April 16, 2020 | Filed under:

Technology has changed the world. Some jobs that used to involve physical labor have been transferred to machines and robots. The rate of desk jobs is only on the rise, and more and more people have the option to sit in front of a computer for the majority of their workday. There are statistics that say over 80% of the American workforce is working a sedentary job that requires them to sit at a desk for a majority o their day. This is a huge advancement in our society and has allowed for more flexible workplaces and more efficient working conditions. 

Even before Covid-19, many employees were working at their computers, but stay at home orders have caused many workers to start to work from home, a great flexible switch that was possible because of how powerful our technology is. But, that means employees who were used to walking with coworkers to grab lunch or coffee are now no longer doing that. That means employees with larger offices that had to go to multiple floors or attend meetings across the building are now able to meet without having to move a muscle. Many people, especially in Eugene, commute to work either by walking or biking, and this lack of movement has created a much more sedentary lifestyle during this global pandemic. 

Then there are students, both college and grade school-aged, who are no longer in schools/on campus. Instead of gym class, walking between classes, and changing buildings, these students are now doing a majority of their learning and work from their homes. Between home wifi, cellphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, most of us have not missed a beat and are still working/studying from home at the same pace we were before, just without leaving the comfort of our couches and living rooms. This has increased the rate of sedentary-ness in both students and employees. 

A downside to the technological advancement and the stay at home orders is that it forces most people to sit in front of their computer for 8 or more hours a day. This does not factor in the other sitting that also happens at the dinner table, watching TV, playing video games, reading books, and video chatting with friends and family. All this sedentary behavior is on top of the fact that most people (should) be resting about 8-9 hours a night. All this sedentary behavior adds up in a negative way, and studies have shown that even an hour of exercise cannot fully combat all of this sitting. 

There are countless articles out there that talk about the long term negative effects of sitting, some even going as far as saying it is the new smoking. It has been shown to be bad for your heart, increases your risk of developing diabetes, causes weight gain, increases your risk of developing cancer, create weak legs and glutes from lack of activation, tighten up your hips and back, increases your risk of anxiety and depression and can even shorten your life span. 

There are many short term negative effects of being sedentary at your desk as well. Sitting without moving for long periods of time can cause chronic stress, negative moods, sore joints/aches, and pains, and even reduced creativity. Another downside of sitting too much can sometimes show itself as late morning or early afternoon fatigue. This is often when workers or students will start downing coffee or caffeinated tea, but the problem is that your body is becoming fatigued from lack of blood flow and circulation. This can cause your quality of work to decrease, your focus to fade (and it makes checking social media seem much more appealing), and your body to stiffen up and become even more uncomfortable. 

If you do have to sit, because we all do at some point, we recommend that you evaluate your sitting posture. Are your shoulders hunched over your phone, book, notebook, or computer? Is your spine curved? Do you have neck or back pain? Do you find yourself with constant headaches? Do you have tight hamstrings or hips? Are you constantly fatigued? Do you experience brain fog, lack of creativity, or stress? If you answer yes to any of these, it is time to really pay attention to your sitting form. Our heads are heavy, and the more we push our necks out instead of being aligned with our spine, they start to become even heavier. This compresses the nerves in the neck that are the reason for your headaches right at the base of your skull. Forcing your neck out of alignment chronically can lead to even worse issues if you do not evaluate what you are doing and conscious work to fix it. And sitting with a curved spine causes it to adapt, which can affect your standing posture and shoulder position. It involves a lot of Physical Therapy and strategic strength training to fix this posture, and it would be better to avoid it in the first place by always trying to keep your spine erect and your shoulders in line. 

Another grievance we often hear in the clinic is tight hips and hamstrings. This often causes patients to not be able to exercise, walk or run without pain, and it ends up creating a cycle of sitting. The problem is that sitting too much puts a lot of stress on your hamstrings and hips, and it can cause long term aches and pains. Just by making an effort to sit less, patient’s find that they are in less pain and can go about their daily lives being more comfortable and in less pain.

The correct way to sit is to first make sure you have the right height for your desk chair. This can make a big difference in your neck and back strain. Your chair should allow you to have your feet flat on the floor and your hips and knees at a perfect 90-degree angle. When you can, try pressing your lower back against the chair to ensure good posture. And if you place your monitor so that the top third is at eye level, that is the best way to have a proper head position. This also goes for using a cellphone. It may not feel natural at first, but keeping your phone low so your neck is bent over is not doing your body any favors. Try to hold your phone with both hands in front of your body, elbows bent and shoulders in a proper position. This position is optimal for shoulder and neck health and long term, it will cause less pain and headaches from bent over necks and spines. 

Now there are arguments about the pros and cons of standing desks because standing for long periods of time can also cause its share of aches and pains in the neck, back, and joints. Standing desks require you to have an optimal form in order for them to be effective. This means your arms are at a 90-degree angle and your back is straight. but we can all agree that movement is better than being stationary. If you have the option to use a standing desk, or if you can stack your computer on a pile of books or use a counter, we recommend alternating between sitting and standing. 

The key to optimal health isn’t by looking at standing or sitting as the enemy. Instead, the key is to move. Movement is what is going to reduce aches, pains, and reduce fatigue. If you can alternate between sitting and standing, that is the ideal way to work. That adjustment is going to help ensure that the blood is flowing and that the body isn’t stuck in the same position for long hours. Your blood will be able to flow, and your body will get a break from staying in the same position for hours on end. 

Another way to make the most out of your work day is by utilizing short workouts and exercises that you can simply do at your desk to ensure your blood is flowing. These exercises can all be done easily at your desk with little or no equipment (and with little or no noice, to be kind to your downstairs neighbors or any family member who is also working from home around you) and they help optimize your health and give you a mini-break from work. Moving at least once an hour is the best for optimal and long-term health. That doesn’t mean you have to do these exercises once an hour, but if you were to do these exercises in a circuit once a lunch, and then every other hour of working, you make an effort to go check the mail, walk the dog, or pace during your conference call, that will make all the difference. 

This will reduce your sedentary time, improve your health, and even help increase productivity when you get back to work. Here is a handful of exercises that can be done at your desk or at home easily with minimal equipment. All you need is a little bit of space, your body, and occasionally a light band. You would be surprised how effective of a workout you can get in just by using your body and bands. We recommend these exercises to most patients, but make sure you are performing them with the optimal form to prevent injuries. Our team of Physical Therapists and Strength And Conditioning Coaches would be happy to help you with any form questions you may have. At Tensegrity Physical Therapy, we are offering both in-person and Telehealth appointments to make sure your needs are met in a way that you feel comfortable.:

  1. Bodyweight squats with a miniband around knees 
    1. Use any resistance miniband that feels comfortable but slightly challenging. Using the miniband helps further engage the glutes and quads and makes a bodyweight squat slightly more challenging. It also helps encourage good form because when you go down into the squat, you should also be pushing your knees out. 
  2. Planks and side planks
    1. There is no equipment needed for this, just your body weight. Planks activate and work a wide range of muscles all throughout the body, like the pectoralis majors (chest), anterior deltoids (front of the shoulders), recti abdominal (abs), and the quads, just to name a few. Planks can help improve overall strength, balance, posture, and stability. 
    2. But the best part about planks is that they are easy to modify. It doesn’t matter if this is your first plank or your 1,000th, there are options to modify the length of time held in the plank, dropping to your forearms for a plank, or putting your base leg down for a side plank. 
  3. Push-ups
    1. Push-ups are another great, no equipment exercise that gives you a bang for your buck, so to speak. Push-ups activate every major muscle in your body when performed correctly. They help build functional strength while also increasing muscle definition, enhancing your cardiovascular system, protect your shoulders from injury, and improve your posture. There are also different modifications based on your starting point. You can start by doing pushups from your knees, you can do pushups on a table/chair/wall, and you can work your way up to higher reps. 
  4. Band rows 
    1. Bands are a cheap and easy way to create resistance and amplify any exercise at home. Resistance bands get heavier as you stretch them, and they are great to use for a wide range of row exercises. You can do one-arm rows, seated banded rows, bent-over rows, and upright rows, all with the help of a resistance band. Rows work multiple muscle groups and can lead to improved strength and endurance.  
  5. Calf raises 
    1. Calf raises can be done by standing in front of a desk or any other piece of furniture and all you have to do is slowly raise your heels and start to lower them back down. This works the entire back half of your legs and can help strengthen your Achilles heel, your calves, and your ankles. 
  6. Tricep dips 
    1. You can use your desk chair and perform a tricep dip. Tricep dips only involve putting your arms behind your back on the chair and slowly raising and lowering yourself to work the back half of your arms. Tricep strength also helps increase overall arm strength, which can prevent injury and can help make sitting up straight easier. 
  7. Lunges
    1. Lunges stimulate muscles in the upper leg and can be done without weight. You can either take a step forward or back with one leg and dipping your body to the ground. 
  8. Glute bridge 
    1. Lie faceup on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Life your hips and hold a bridged position. Make sure to not overextend your back. 

*  For even more efficiency, a combination of these can be done in a circuit style to increase your heart rate further. A suggestion for a circuit could be to do each exercise with proper form for 30 seconds on and rest for 30 seconds. Then you go onto the next exercise, and running through everything twice would give you a 16-minute workout. If you want to do 3 rounds, you can have a solid 24-minute workout with basically no equipment that will activate all muscles in the body. 

There is also the option to always go take a walk. Whether that is going up and down your stairs a few times, by taking your dog out for a walk, a trip to the mailbox, or even just a few laps around the room. If you are on a call, try walking around the house or pace in your office to ensure you are continuing to move. The key is to try to keep moving throughout the day. 

Now that Covid-19 restrictions are started to be lifted, there are many more opportunities to get up and moving during the day. Parks are starting to reopen, and with the nicer weather, there are more opportunities to walk the dog, bike down the river path, or go for a socially distanced hike at an open trail. When you do drive somewhere, try parking further away to force you to have to walk further. Take the stairs whenever you can, dance when you hear a good song, and ride your bike to close places. 

Our team of Physical Therapists and Exercise Specialists would be happy to evaluate your form and help create a custom movement plan for you via our new Telehealth program or in-person. We are still following all guidelines by the CDC and Governor Brown with the State Of Oregon, and our number one priority is the health of both our staff and our patients. We are still wearing masks, deep cleaning, washing our hands thoroughly, and checking the temperature of our staff each day, and we ask our patients to not come in if they are feeling ill, have been exposed to someone who is sick, or if they do not feel comfortable. Click here to schedule an appointment with us today!

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