How’s your back doing from all the sitting around during the MCO?

You may have heard it said that “sitting is the new smoking,” which is credited to Dr. James Levine at the Mayo Clinic. He added, “sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, work from home arrangements and house-bound quarantine rules have made the lives of office worker bees way more sedentary than they already were. Not only has sitting and working at home caused extra aches and pains throughout the day, it can also lead to health risks in the long run. 

Recent research has shown that long hours of sitting and little movement can change your body’s metabolism — slowing down 90 percent after just 30 minutes of it. What happens when you are active is that enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles — where it can be burned off — slow down. When you’re sitting down, you’re also not utilising the muscles in your lower body. Sitting also reportedly makes the body less sensitive to insulin, so you aren’t burning calories as fast, as well as lowers good cholesterol.

Other harms from sitting too much also include increased risk of obesity, back, neck and sciatica pain from poor posture, and increased risk of type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. To really put things into perspective, know that you burn an average of 50 calories more per hour by standing. Three hours of standing for five days a week is an additional 750 calories burned — that’s 30,000 calories per year, the equivalent of running 10 marathons or the amount of energy needed to lose 9lbs.

 “Just getting up for five minutes is going to get things going again,” says Gavin Bradley, director of Active Working, an international group advocating against sedentary lifestyles. 

Hoping to change up your daily sitting routine for the better? Alex Hunter, a personal trainer from boutique fitness studio ATP Personal Training in Hong Kong, shows us the best exercises you can do at home to strengthen your muscles and provide relief for achy joints and poor posture.

“With home based working arrangements … a huge part of our daily activity has been disrupted: Just the commute to work, going out for lunch, walking around the office has all been removed from our daily lives and we find ourselves seated — or lying in bed — even more than ever. The idea behind this workout is to provide relief to the muscles often affected by [the seated] posture,” says Hunter.

Alex Hunter from ATP Personal Training in Hong Kong.

After you’re done with the exercises — it’s important to also note that regular exercise and movement throughout the day is key. “You can’t offset 10 hours of stillness with one hour of exercise,” says Katy Bowman, author of ‘Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement,’ as told to Reuters. Even though you’ve taken steps to alleviate joint and muscle tension, you’ll want to remind yourself to talk breaks to walk and stretch every hour or so.

ATP Fitness’s Workout to Alleviate Muscle Tension and Desk-bound Posture

1) Neck Circles: 3 x 6 rotations (three clockwise, three anti-clockwise)

Stretches the neck and shoulders.

– The idea with these rotations is to use your own muscular contractions to increase the functional range of the surrounding tissue aiding in joint health and protection.

– Move slowly with controlled movement, maximising the range of each angle your neck goes through. Imagine your head is moving through butter. 

– Only work within a comfortable range. If there is any pinching, reduce the range and work within a smaller circle. Each rotation you do, try and increase the size of that circle. This applies to all the rotation exercises.

2) Split Squats: 3 x 12 reps each leg, pause for one second at the bottom.

Stretches the hip flexors.

– Stand with feet at shoulder-width apart, pushing up onto your toes on the back leg, tuck your pelvis under (think about pointing your tailbone towards the floor) and with your lower back straight a slight lean forward. 

– The focus here is on stretching the hip flexors. Do not force this range as they are probably quite tight from being seated all day. Sink into it slowly until you feel a good stretch, hold at the bottom of your pain-free range for one second. Then push back up through your front foot.

3) Push-ups to Downward Dog: 3 x 10 reps, pause for one second at Downward Dog position.

Stretches the posterior chain (e.g. hamstring, glutes, back), strengthens the chest.

– Combining the Push-up and Downward Dog is a great way of stretching and strengthening the chest as well as stretching the posterior chain which will be tight from being in a seated position. 

– Start with hands shoulder-width apart, core and glutes engaged with a straight bodyline. Lead with your chest, not your head. Look slightly forward, your head should not be reaching down to the floor. Keep a neutral spine.

– As you push up into the Downward Dog position, think about the back of your knees reaching to an object behind you (to keep them straight) and driving your heels down to the floor. You should feel a great stretch in your hamstrings.

– To modify this for beginners, start with your knees on the floor and do the same push up motion. Once you get to the top, lift your knees off the floor and move into the downward dog position. Return to your knees and repeat the push-up.

4) 90/90: 3 x 10 reps each leg

Stretches the hips.

– This is a fantastic hip stretch that should be incorporated into everyone’s daily routine. 

– In a seated position, have one leg in front of you with a 90 degree bend in the knee, and your other leg to the side with a 90 degree bend in the knee. Lean forwards to feel the stretch.

– If you struggle to get into this position, you can use a book or foam block to elevate your front leg. 

– Keep your back flat, don’t just roll over your front leg. The idea is to bring your chest forward and hover over your knee with your belly button, while simultaneously thinking of pushing your butt back.  Once you feel the stretch, hold for a breath and push back up by driving your front knee into the floor.

5) Scapular Rotations: 3 x 6 rotations 

Relieves tense upper back.

– With the seated position hunched over a computer or phone that we find ourselves for the majority of the day, scapular rotations will help free up the tension you feel in your upper back. 

– Move your shoulders slowly, with controlled movement, and make sure you are maximising the range of each position. Don’t just rush through it. 

– When going through the downward positions, think about driving your fingers down to the floor as if you’re trying to grab something.

6) Rear foot Elevated Split Squats: 3 x 12 reps for each leg, one second pause at the bottom

Stretches the back leg and hip flexors.

– This exercise provides a great stretch for the back leg and your hip flexors, providing relief from a seated position as well as strengthening the muscles in the lead leg. 

– To start, place the top of your back foot on a chair or sofa. With your back straight as you lower down, think about sitting back onto your heel. There should be a 90 degree angle at the hip and knee in the bottom position. Hold this for one second and drive up by pushing your heel of the front leg into the floor.

7) Floor Glute Bridge Raise: 3 x 15 reps, with one second pause at top

Stretches the hip flexors and works the glutes.

– We have focused on a few hip flexor stretches, the glute bridge raise is a great way to strengthen the opposing muscle group to provide more sustained benefits. 

– With this exercise think of driving through your heels, like you are pushing the floor away. Aim to get your hip as high as possible, pushing them up towards the ceiling while keeping your back flat.

– Your shoulders and hips should always be in one line. 

– Squeeze your butt cheeks together as hard as possible at the top!

8) Floor Swimmers: 3 x 6 reps 

Strengthens the upper back and shoulders.

– As we spend so much time hunched over our computers or phones, This exercise helps build postural strength and helps improve overall shoulder health.

– This exercise looks relatively simple, but don’t be fooled! As always this should be a slow and controlled movement, maximising every angle and rotation. 

– Really focus on the lift off from your head and lower back and try keep your hands in that same position throughout the entire movement. Constantly trying to squeeze your upper back and keeping your hands as high as possible.

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong.