Fitness: Moves for Working Stiffs

January 25 2013, 1:30 PM

Anyone who’s come home with a tension headache, knows that sitting for long stretches does a number on sanity and muscles. A study in the journal Pain found that people who suffer from neck and shoulder tightness—a problem that affects about 60 percent of all office workers—can reduce pain by 14 percent and tenderness by 13 percent with just two minutes a day of resistance band exercises.

Stretching is important because over time shortened muscles lose sarcomeres—fibers that allow muscles to contract—which chronically shortens the muscle. Stretched muscles gain sarcomeres, elongating and weakening the muscle. Regularly getting up from your desk throughout the day is your first line of defense, especially since sitting for six-hour stretches has been linked to an increased risk (37 percent for women, 18 percent for men) of premature death from cardiovascular disease—even if you exercise. Better yet, improving strength with short bouts of exercise and stretching could be a quick fix for all of your tight spots.

Here are three two-minutes-or-less moves that will relieve and strengthen every office muscle, and make your workweek a little less painful.

Neck: Flexion and extension 
Stand with feet hip-width apart, engage abs and pull shoulders down and back. Slowly drop your chin to chest; hold for 15 seconds and return to start. Then slowly roll head backwards until chin is pointed towards ceiling; hold for 15 seconds and return to start. Repeat two to four times.

In the same starting position, and keeping shoulders down, slowly draw your right ear towards your right shoulder until you feel a stretch; hold for 15 seconds and return to start. Switch sides. Repeat to two to four times.

Shoulders: Lateral raise
Hold the ends of a resistance band in each hand and stand in the middle of the band with one foot to anchor it. With elbows slightly bent, raise arms up and out to the side until level with shoulders. Make sure thumbs are slightly higher than pinky fingers. Pause and return to start. Repeat 10 times. Do one to two sets.

Forearms: Flexion and extension
Hold arms straight out in front of body with palms facing floor. Keeping elbows locked, extend wrists by bending wrists backwards until palms face forward and you feel a stretch; hold eight to 10 seconds.  Return to start, and then make a fist with each hand and bend wrists downward until knuckles face floor or you feel a stretch; hold eight to 10 seconds. Repeat.

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