April 12, 2013
I feel as if, day by day, inch by inch, I am turning into one of the turtle people.
You know us. Our natural habitat is the landscape of six-by-six cubicles in any given office building. We sit, round-shouldered in our little enclosures, hour after hour, our necks slowly recessing into our bodies, our elbows glued to our sides so only short segments of our arms protrude.
Gradually, our bodies start to take this form in other portions of our lives, too. I catch myself often, for example, with my chin thrust forward in this position driving in the car, or even doing water aerobics in the pool.
It is the shape people often tend to settle into when they have been sitting in one place for too long, focusing on one thing — usually their computer monitor.
The physical problems that result from this constant sitting are manifold. Pain in the neck, shoulders, back, hips and knees are common. For me, the shoulders and the ribs are the worst part, where the muscles tend to tighten and knot from extended computer work.
One study not long ago even reported that too much sitting can shorten your life. Is it any wonder that for many, many people like me, massage therapists have become a necessity rather than a luxury?
Nicole Nichols, a fitness expert over at www.sparkpeople.com recently wrote about this phenomenon in "Desk job got you down? Try a desk-defying workout."
You'd think a fitness expert would be on the go all day long, but, like me, Nichols sits in front of a computer most of the day, writing about what she knows.
She has come up with a variety of methods to counteract this slow descent into turtlehood. In her article, she outlined a list of exercises that can help remedy computer slump.
Other common recommendations include getting up from your desk every 30 to 60 minutes to stretch, consciously taking deep breaths to counteract the tendency for shallow breathing while sitting, and switching to a standing desk.
While most of my work takes place seated, I can break that up with little errands around the office and by standing to do proofing, or even while talking on the phone, if I choose. I also tend to stretch a lot at my desk, reaching with my toes under my desk, stretching my neck with ear-to-shoulder moves, rolling my shoulders and just reaching for the sky.
I would also add another solution to Nicole's list. Recently, I switched from a water aerobics workout to swimming, mainly for the better workout benefits. A side benefit I have noticed is the amazing amount of stretching involved in this activity.
In the backstroke, for example, you are constantly stretching out with your arms, working your shoulders and elongating the oblique abdominal muscles of your torso, which tend to compact with extended sitting. In the breaststroke, your core muscles must be fully engaged to maintain position lap after lap. Those are key muscles required to maintain good posture, which also tends to suffer from a sedentary lifestyle.
I also love the grace of the breaststroke’s frog kick, which exercises the hip joints and reminds me of the old Esther Williams synchronized swimming movies I’d come across on TV as a child. I am hoping, over time, that regular swimming will help ease some of the chronic problems related to my desk job, like the knot in my shoulder that hasn't truly gone away for more than a decade. I will let you know.
And if I end up with those amazingly toned and sleek swimmer's shoulders in the process, who am I to complain?
Kathy Ursprung is the managing editor of The Dalles Chronicle. She also tweets on health topics on Twitter as katt775.