7 Exercises Guaranteed To Combat The Negative Effects Of Sitting All Day
By this point, the number of studies outlining the negative effects of sitting on our health are ubiquitous. We've scoured the internet for the best exercises to combat the hours of sitting, but said exercises and routines aren't the only tools needed to help you sit strong—you can also practice various forms of specific exercise. Here are a few exercises to consider incorporating into your everyday movement.
All yoga is based on strength-building and stretching postures that work with the breath, which is important for rebuilding strength that the effects of sitting can present. Plus, as a form of exercise that aims to restore a connection between the mind and body, it has the added benefit of being calmly therapeutic, helping to turn down the stress thermostat, as well as building strength and flexibility.
Pilates—named after Joseph Pilates, a physical trainer who originally worked with ballet dancers—is a particularly good way to improve your core stability and postural alignment. The goal of Pilates is to improve muscle tone, whole-body strength, and stamina through a series of exercises that work to balance both sides of the body. There’s a lot of floor work and the use of exercise balls, instability "wobble" boards, resistance bands, and blocks to help position the body during some of the exercises.
Devised by the actor Frederick Matthias Alexander in 1896, his original aim was to unlearn those poor postural habits that impeded his voice. The technique is a way to identify and prevent the harmful postural habits that aggravate, or may even be the cause of, stress, pain, and underperformance. With the help of a teacher, practitioners of the technique learn how to release muscular tension, realign the body, and help restore physical balance.
The idea is that, through increased bodily awareness, you can be poised without stiffness, move gracefully and powerfully with less effort, breathe more easily, and generally calm your body and, through that, your mind. Improving patterns of posture and movement reduces the strain on the body and can alleviate pain and restore health.
T’ai chi originated as a Chinese martial art, but in the true tradition of its philosophy, it trains the mind as well as the body. Its three key principles focus on physical health, through the relief of muscular tension and stress; meditation through the calmness of the physical movements; and self-defense, through yielding and responding rather than meeting it with an opposing force.
The sequence of movements and poses of T’ai chi is designed to balance internal energy, but its slow-impact movements, surprisingly, use as much energy as surfing. It’s all about posture, measured movement, and control, and through its practice, physical strength and health can be improved, along with balance and coordination. It provides a great all-around physical and mental work out.
Swimming is a lovely low-impact exercise and is particularly good for protecting your joints, strengthening your muscles, improving your breath control, and increasing stamina. It’s also a total body and good cardiovascular exercise, which you can balance against other, higher-intensity exercises. Swimming is also a recognized stress buster, helping with focus and concentration. Its role in supporting breathing makes it a good exercise for those with asthma, too.
Although swimming is something anyone can learn or enjoy, if you are a poor or unconfident swimmer, a few classes will really help you get maximum benefit. Often, local pools run classes or will have details of swimming coaches who can give you a few lessons.
We are built for movement, and the simplest exercise of all is walking. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise, so it has the added advantage of automatically maintaining or increasing bone density. Keeping our bones strong is particularly important as we age. It also helps maintain a healthy weight, but you need to walk briskly to ensure maximum benefit. This means walking at an energetic pace, where you are breathing hard but not gasping—you should just about be able to continue an intermittent conversation but would probably find singing difficult! You can improve the benefits of walking by swinging your arms as you walk, with or without small, handheld weights.
Rather more than just brisk walking, running requires a bit of thought and proper footwear, although in theory you can do it anywhere. It’s high impact, hence the need for proper running shoes that will support the feet and protect the knees, as it can, over time, take its toll on both knees and hips.
Always do a few stretching exercises before you start, to warm up your muscles and reduce the risk of injury. It’s better to run little and often rather than occasionally and for longer. The benefits of running are also linked to maintaining a stable body weight and lifting your mood.
In need of some more tips to help balance out the body after a long day of sitting? Consider targeting specific areas with these fascia moves.
Based on excerpts from Sit Strong by Harriet Griffey, published by Hardie Grant Books, January 2018.
Harriet Griffey is a London-based journalist, writer, and author of over 20 books, mostly focusing on health and well-being. She trained and worked as a nurse before becoming a writer full-time and has her master's in modern and contemporary literatures from Birbeck, University of London.