Daily Mail

Get fit while you sit!

We spend 13 hours a day on our bottoms. So why not try the new trend for ‘active sitting’?

- By Anna Maxted

You may not want to be sitting down to hear this: spending 13 hours a day seated, as 20 million of us do, can seriously endanger your health.

Women spend the equivalent of 74 days a year on their bottoms, according to the British Heart Foundation. Men are even worse — parked on their behinds for 78 days.

It’s not entirely our fault. ‘ We are working longer hours and far more people have sedentary jobs,’ says chartered physiother­apist Lucy Macdonald, of the octopus Clinic in London.

However, an inactive lifestyle causes backache, migraines and digestive problems, and has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and even early death.

Fortunatel­y, it’s easy to counter some of the risks of excessive sitting and to keep supple and pain-free. In a timely new book, Sit Strong: Everyday Exercises To Stretch And Strengthen Your Posture, author Harriet Griffey has devised a series of movements, all physiother­apist-approved, that can be done from your chair.

So if you can’t get to the gym or out for a walk, try ‘active sitting’ with these specially targeted exercises you can do at your desk. As Macdonald says: ‘The benefits are vast, from the immediate boost of increasing circulatio­n to the brain and therefore improving productivi­ty at work, to the long-term benefits of reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease and mental health issues.’


WE oFTEn tilt our heads down to type or check our phones, but, of course, the neck supports the head (which weighs 10-12 lb) so the further it tilts forward, the greater the strain it places on the neck, leading to something that’s commonly dubbed ‘tech neck’.

Sitting too far away from your computer, with your chair too low or your screen too high, is a common problem, too, says Macdonald.

‘Position your chair as close to your desk as you can,’ she says. ‘Ideally, your tummy should almost touch your desk. If your screen isn’t too far away, you’ll want to lean back in your chair with a straight back, which prevents your head from dropping forward.’ ACTIVE SITTING EXERCISE: To help relieve neck strain, turn your neck from side to side as if you were watching a game of tennis, this eases muscles and joints.


oFTEn when using a computer mouse, we rest our arm on the table, which leads to our shoulders slumping forwards. This can affect our posture, often resulting in back pain.

Macdonald says: ‘one of the best things you can do to prevent this, if you use a keyboard and a mouse, is to bring them as close to you as possible, so the arm is close to the body.’

ACTIVE SITTING EXERCISE: Twisting the chair rotates the joints in the mid and upper spine.

Sit forward, astride one corner of your chair. Then twist around and place a hand on either side of the chair back. Keeping your feet flat on the ground, pull with your arms, so you slowly rotate and feel a stretch through your back. Then sit on the other corner of the chair and repeat the exercise (see a video example at octopuscli­nic.com).

A cactus- position shoulder stretch is also great for relieving shoulder tension. Stretch your arms out to the sides at shoulder level. Then bend your arms upwards, so your forearms are at right angles to your upper arms, with palms facing forwards.

In this ‘cactus’ position, gently push your arms back, to activate the muscles between your shoulder blades and spine.

Hold for a count of three. now round your shoulders and, keeping your arms bent, bring them to your front and press your forearms together. Hold for a count of three. Repeat five times.


WHEn using a keyboard, we tend to hold our arms in one position and make lots of tiny hand movements, says Griffey. It can lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Whether you prefer to rest your arms on the desk or chair arms, ‘the important thing is that your wrists are in neutral’, says Macdonald. ‘ They shouldn’t be bent in either direction.

‘If you have your arms dangling, your wrists sink downwards, and end up at an angle. This results in the top side being squashed, and the underside stretched, which causes RSI. Keep your wrists as straight as possible.’

ACTIVE SITTING EXERCISE: To stretch and strengthen the joints in your arms, begin with a forward raise. Keep feet flat, knees square, stomach tucked in and your posture upright.

Keep shoulders square and, without reaching forward, raise your arms straight out in front of you to shoulder height, keeping elbows soft.

Rotate your arms in small circles, repeating ten times in one direction, then reverse. Relax. Repeat twice.

For sideways raised-arm circles, extend each arm to the side and smoothy rotate in small circles — ten clockwise, then ten anti-clockwise.

With two 500ml filled water bottles, you also can do weighted bicep curls in your chair. Place your arms at your sides, elbows bent, so each forearm is at a right angle, directly in front of you. Bring the weight up to your shoulder and down, five each side. Repeat twice.


WEAK buttock muscles are a pain — literally — as, along with the abdominals, they support the lower back.

Sitting down for hours, particular­ly if we slump, strains the lower vertebrae and if our gluteal muscles aren’t performing well, this can aggravate lower back problems, says Griffey. Strengthen­ing your bottom muscles will support your lower back, improve circulatio­n and ease discomfort.

Macdonald notes that if you sit for long periods, gravity can cause circulatio­n to stagnate in the calf area.

ACTIVE SITTING EXERCISE: Macdonald is a huge fan of the sit-andstand exercise (a chair-based squat). She says: ‘It’s literally standing up, sitting down, standing up, sitting down.

‘Get into the habit of standing up every time you pick up your phone.

‘These muscles help pump the blood around that area but are also fundamenta­l to many movements and functions of the body, as well as to the stability of the hips and the back.’

Buttock clenches are simple, easy and can be done sitting at your desk, ideally several times throughout the day.

Sit with feet flat. Tense and hold the muscles in your buttocks for a count of ten. Release, then repeat ten times. sit strong by harriet Griffey (hardie Grant, £10).

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