These “Sitting Stretches” Will Make You Healthier

We spend almost seven hours a day seated.

We all know that sitting is the new smoking, and that too much of it is hazardous to your health.

But it’s always a challenge for busy lawyers and legal professionals to avoid excessive chair time. It’s even more challenging in this Age of Zoom, where you’re forced to park yourself in front of your laptop or device for meetings, webinars, and court proceedings.

The trick is to be aware of how much time you’re spending in your seat, and to be intentional about getting up and taking breaks.

“Any extended sitting — at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen — can be harmful,” says the Mayo Clinic. “An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.”

The bad news: Americans have become more sedentary, sitting an average of 6.4 hours per day in 2016, according to this study. That’s up from 5.7 hours daily in 2008.

The good news: an hour of moderate physical activity – which can be as leisurely as taking a lunchtime stroll, using a standing desk, or simply pacing your office during long phone calls – will counter the debilitating effects of eight hours of sitting.

Following are some “sitting exercises” to keep you strong and alert throughout your workday.

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“What do we do if our life or job requires prolonged sitting?” asks physical therapist Leslie Waltke. “Well, it really doesn’t take too much. Research suggests that just brief periods of standing (or even kneeling and squatting) can be beneficial throughout the day. I recommend a 30-by-30 rule, which reminds people to stand up for at least 30 seconds, every 30 minutes.”

Here are some sitting stretches Waltke recommends to her patients to improve range of motion, relieve tightness, and prevent muscle loss.

Stretches for Mobility and Range of Motion
(Do these one to four times daily; 5-10 repetitions each; you should feel a gentle stretching sensation.)

  • Neck rotations. Rotate your neck left and right slowly, then up and down slowly as far as comfortable.
  • Shoulder shrugs. Shrug your shoulders forward and backward.
  • Trunk rotation and side stretch. Reach both arms to the ceiling and slowly rotate your spine to the left and to the right. Then side bend to the left and right, slowly.
  • Gentle backbend. Place your hands in the small of your back and gently bend your spine backward.

To Relieve Muscle Stiffness or Tightness
(Do these one to four times every day; hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds; up to four repetitions; You should feel a mild to moderate pull sensation.)

For the lower back:

  • Knee-to-chest stretch. Sit down, gently bring one knee to your chest, and hold.
  • Seated low-back stretch. Sit down, gently bend forward, lowering your hands to the floor between your knees, and hold.
  • Seated piriformis stretch. Sit down, place your right foot over your left knee. Then pull your right knee toward your left shoulder, and hold. (You should feel this in the right butt cheek.) Repeat on the other side.
  • Standing low-back stretch. Stand, rest your hands on a desk or chair back, and bend forward at the waist to stretch your low-back and hamstring muscles. 

For the legs:

  • Sitting quad stretch. Sit down and move to the right side of your chair. Put your right toes back and bend your right knee. You should feel a stretch in the front of the thigh. Repeat on the left side.
  • Standing quad stretch. While standing (with support as needed), put your right foot on the chair seat behind you and bend the right knee to feel a pull in the front of the thigh. Repeat on the left side.

To Decrease Loss of Muscle Strength
(Do these one to four times a day, three times per week; 10-30 repetitions each.)

  • Heel raises. Standing, rise up onto your toes. Hold for one count, then lower. For a challenge, work one leg at a time.
  • Squats. Standing, squat to a comfortable point. Hold for one count and rise back to standing.
  • Wall pushups. Stand 2 to 3 feet from a wall. Place your two hands on the wall just below chest level. Keeping your body straight, lower your nose to the wall, hold for one count, and push back out again.
  • Single leg standing. Stand on one foot for 15 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.

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