If you’ve been working from home during the pandemic, that could mean the most exercise you’re getting is the short and hearty sprint from desk to kitchen or from couch to bathroom. Although daily walks while social distancing are acceptable, today’s general lifestyles aren’t helping pre-existing trends.
Well before the pandemic, Canadians were becoming increasingly sedentary. According to Statistics Canada, 86 per cent of adults were sedentary for over eight hours a day – and that’s not including sleep. Only 16 per cent were getting 150 minutes of exercise during the week, as recommended by the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.
Based on a preliminary May study from Cambridge Open Engage, Americans are exercising even less now, spending more time staring at screens. Lower physical activity also correlates with poor mental health. Those who were previously meeting exercise guidelines report an average of 32 per cent less physical activity.
Inactivity can lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and depression. Prolonged sitting and poor posture can lead to difficulty breathing and anxiety. Thanks to isolation measures, the odds those who were generally inactive will become active and those who kept active will return to their usual levels of activity are lower than ever.
“I’m a true believer in making the most of every second,” says osteopath and body and posture expert Dr. Liza Egbogah. “It’s important to take regular breaks if you’re sat working from home for extended periods of time, to reset and tune in to how your body feels.
“There are some simple moves you can do to help combat the side-effects of sitting down, including hunching over our screens and the constant pressure on our glutes,” she adds. “When you have poor posture, your muscles have to work hard to perform daily tasks, leading to muscle strain and joint inflammation. That’s your body telling you it’s not functioning properly.”
It’s crucial to use time at your desk or in line at the grocery store to work out your muscles. Below, Egbogah shares a mini stretch routine she developed specifically for lockdown to help yourid your body of aches and pains, relieve stress and improve posture.
Stuck in line at the grocery store? Here are some useful stretches to make that time count
Standing calf stretch
Why: You may notice that your feet and calves have started to hurt as you’ve spent more time at home. This may be because you’re going barefoot more often rather than wearing supportive footwear. This stretch will help relieve foot pain and tight calf muscles, particularly when you have to spend long periods standing and waiting in line.
How: With your feet about shoulder-width apart, step your right foot forward. With your heel grounded, flex your foot and point your toes towards the sky. You should feel a stretch in your calf. To deepen the stretch, slowly bend forward, maintaining a flat back. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat on the other side. You can hold on to your shopping cart if you have difficulty balancing.
Why: After spending so much time sitting at home, you may be feeling some back pain. This stretch will help ease it and, as an added bonus, it’s a particularly calming exercise that might prepare you for a better shopping experience.
How: Use both hands to hold onto your cart and step backwards until your arms are straight. Take a deep breath in, then slowly bend forward, being careful not to hang your body weight from the cart. Take a couple of deep breaths and then slowly come back up.
Why: This is another great stretch for tight back muscles. It is also a great chest opener, meaning it will give your lungs more room to expand and can help with deep breathing.
How: With your feet about shoulder-width apart, place your left hand on your hip and slowly bend to the left side, forming a C curve with your body. For a deeper stretch, take your right arm and reach overhead towards your left. You should feel a stretch on the right side of your torso as you bend deeper to the left. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then slowly come up and repeat on the other side.
Why: This back bend provides a great decompression of your spine, stretches your hip flexors and helps you check if the person behind you is indeed two metres away.
How: Place your palms on your lower back with your fingers pointing down towards the ground or like you’re going to put your hands into your back pockets. Take a deep breath in and slowly arch backwards folding over your hands. Try to look and see the person behind you, let your body follow your gaze and move into the curve. Take a deep breath in and slowly come up, ensuring your lower back is supported with your hands.
Why: This stretch will help improve your posture, encourage proper breathing and alleviate neck pain. You can also do this one while sitting down at your desk.
How: Interlock your hands behind your back, keeping your arms straight while pulling your hands down towards the ground. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for five seconds while keeping your body in an upright position. You should feel a comfortable stretch through your chest. Repeat three times.
If you’re glued to your desk while working from home, try these stretches
Why: You would think sitting down is simply second nature, but you have to be conscious of how you’re doing it to do it properly. Be sure to set your day up right from the get-go by ensuring you sit down at your desk seat in a squatted position.
How: Ensure your pelvis is tilted forward [sticking your glutes out] and that you are at a 90-degree angle to your chair or leaning slightly back. This will prompt proper spinal alignment, meaning you are less likely to crouch over from the moment you sit down.
Trapezius neck stretch
Why: It’s not only your back that can take the brunt of leaning over your computer, but your neck, too. Stretching out neck and shoulder muscles regularly will help to curb the damage caused by this curvature.
How: To stretch out your neck, grab the bottom of your seat with your left hand, take the right hand to the left ear and gently push the head down towards the right shoulder for a release of any built-up tension. Try and bring the right ear as close to the top of the right shoulder as possible. Repeat on the opposite side.
Why: Spending all day sitting down can really weaken the muscles at an alarming rate. But, fear not, this exercise can be done while seated, and will release built-up tension.
How: With your right foot planted on the floor, bring your left ankle onto the top of the right quad. With both hands, hold onto your left shin and pull yourself forward to stretch out the glutes. Repeat on the opposite side and do as many times as you can throughout the day to really feel a difference.