Quick bursts of exercise and doing tasks will break the cycle of inactivity and keep you healthier.
It’s easy to spend long periods sitting in front of a computer, or with a tablet or smartphone, even when you know it’s not good for health. But it’s not quite as easy to break the cycle of being a “keyboard athlete,” and make an effort to get more activity into your day. “I agree, I think people are becoming aware that prolonged sitting has a negative impact on health, but I’m not seeing enough people actually do something about it,” says Marsha Pogrebinsky, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
The risks of sitting
Each moment you tell yourself that you’ll get up soon is another moment that you’re increasing sedentary time, which boosts the risk for developing obesity, weight gain, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. And check out what poor posture does as you sit hunched over a phone or keyboard, with your shoulders slumped forward: “It can lead to weakened neck muscles, compressed neck bones, neck aches, and headaches. It can weaken the strength of your hips and lower back and make it difficult to stand and walk,” says Pogrebinsky.
Tip: Alternate activity breaks with exercise breaks. In other words, focus on activity in one break, and doing actual exercises in the next.
Breaking the cycle
You can reduce sedentary time with quick breaks. Ideally you should get up every 30 to 60 minutes and move for at least two or three minutes. Try doing a burst of purposeful activity so it won’t seem like a chore, such as getting a drink of water, picking up the mail, visiting with a family member or co-worker, or going to another part of your home or office to do some small task. “Once you’re on your feet, you’ll find that it’s easier to move a little more,” says Pogrebinsky.
More athlete, less keyboard
Just as important as quick bursts of activity is a concerted effort to loosen tight joints and relieve back and neck pain. “Try including a brief exercise routine into your work day that includes one minute of standing heel raises, then one minute of squats if you’re able to do those, and one minute of pulling your shoulders back and squeezing your shoulder blades together,” says Pogrebinsky. Add in a few stretches of the neck, torso, and hamstrings to loosen up before you sit back down (see “Gentle stretches to fight time spent sitting”). “Don’t forget to warm and loosen up your joints before you do your stretches. About 10 repetitions of nodding and rotating your head, or bending and straightening your knees and hips just before you hold your gentle stretches can yield better response to stretching,” says Pogrebinsky.
Once you’re back at the screen, reduce the strain on your neck and back by making sure you’re sitting up straight, with your monitor (or smartphone) at eye level, and use a keyboard height that allows your hands to be angled down, not up.
These exercises and bursts of activity won’t turn you into an athlete, but they’ll go a long way toward keeping you healthier.
Gentle stretches to fight time spent sitting
Seated torso rotation
Sit up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, and your arms at your sides.
Slowly rotate your head and torso to the right side, placing your left hand on the outside of your right knee and your right hand next to your right hip. Hold. Slowly return to the starting position.
Repeat to the left side, this time with your right hand on the outside of your left knee and your left hand next to your left hip.
Seated hamstring stretch
Sit up straight toward the front of a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
Extend your right leg straight in front of you with the heel grounded on the floor and toes pointing to the ceiling.
Hinge forward from the hip, placing your hands on your left thigh for support. Keep your spine neutral. Hold.
Repeat with the left leg.
Images: Michael Carroll Photography
Image: Death to the stock photo