Take a break and get moving! Stretching tips for deskbound employees

Swim or die. That’s life as a shark, at least according to conventional wisdom. (In reality, some shark species can take a break and still survive.)

Thankfully, we humans don’t face such dire consequences for inactivity. But like sharks, we also need to keep moving. This is especially true for employees who spend most of their working hours at their desks.

In fact, as we wrote about in an earlier blog, while it may be necessary to admonish kindergarteners to “sit still,” that’s one of the worst things an office worker can do.

“People who sit at their computers for hours every day — they’re in for serious medical problems,” said Sharon Hame, MD, associate clinical professor at UCLA’s department of orthopaedic surgery, in a recent WebMD article. “We’re seeing more things than carpal tunnel; those pains go up the arm to the elbow and shoulder and then translate to the neck and back. It’s a huge problem.”

The pains in your employees’ muscles can affect their productivity and your bottom line. Studies show that muscular pain is the single largest cost driver for employers and accounts for 60% of all healthcare and workers compensation claims. It also has a negative impact on absenteeism, presenteeism and employee morale.

Now for the good news: You and your employees can prevent many of these problems just by taking a minute or two every hour to stretch your muscles. Think of the following stretching exercises as a necessary recess for the body and mind.

  • Get up and walk away from your desk. Here’s a radical concept — instead of sending an email, walk over to talk to one of your colleagues. Try to take longer walks during your lunch breaks.
  • Stand up and sit down 5-10 times without using your hands. It’s harder than you might think!
  • To stretch your torso, take a deep breath and as you exhale, turn to the right and grab the back of your chair with your right hand, and grab the arm of the chair with your left. Sitting upright, twist your torso around so you’re facing the opposite direction. Take a few slow breaths while holding the twist, then gradually release it to face forward again. Repeat in the other direction.
  • Much of the stress from work becomes tension in your shoulder and neck muscles. Shrug your shoulders up to your ears while inhaling deeply, then release them with a big sigh. Repeat three times. Slowly move your head up and down a few times. Then look over your left shoulder as far as you can, and do the same over your right shoulder.
  • To strengthen your abdomen, grab the seat of your chair to brace yourself and extend your legs so they are parallel to the floor. Flex and point your toes five times. Release and repeat.

Since our muscles tense up and our minds can go “loco” without motion, making these breaks an everyday is a great way to stay healthy and mentally sharp. Here are some more stretching exercises for other parts of the body.


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