Today’s modern culture has most of us spending more time sitting than previous generations. What many of us may not know is prolonged sitting can lead to muscle degradation and damaged backs. For example, one of the adverse effects of prolonged sitting is it can increase our “kyphotic” curve (rounded curve) of the thoracic spine jetting the neck forward. This can lead to upper back pain, neck pain, and long-term spinal structural dysfunction.Prolonged sitting can also wreak havoc on your lower back. As studied by Dr. Stuart McGill, a prominent spine researcher, going from sitting for an extended period of time — such as on a plane — then lifting something heavy — such as a suitcase — can cause herniated discs. When you sit, a good deal of pressure is placed on the discs in your lower back and the muscles and ligaments around those discs. This pressure is even more pronounced when you slouch. It takes at least the same amount of time you spent sitting for the muscles, ligaments, and tendons to rebound to their former full strength.Lower back issues can also be caused by weak and tight hips and hamstring muscles due to sitting. When the hips and hamstrings are weak and tight, they tend to pull on the lower back muscles, causing lower back pain. The more we strengthen and stretch our hips and hamstrings, the more likely we’ll create space and alleviate tension in the lower back. To help counterbalance the adverse effects of sitting in a chair, we’ll go through six easy chair exercises postures you can do in your chair to keep your spine mobile, hip and hamstrings open, and your back healthy. You can do these simple postures anywhere, anytime — be it sitting on your couch, in a kitchen chair, at your desk, on a bus or park bench, etc. It is amazing how a little yoga can go a long way.
Sit at the edge of your chair with your feet hip-distance apart. Turn your upper body to your right, taking your right hand to the back of your chair or couch. If there isn’t a back (such as a bench), take your right hand behind you on the seat. Take your left hand to the outside of your right thigh. Lift out through both sides of your waist and twist a little deeper to your right. Take your gaze in the direction of your right shoulder. Stay here for 30 seconds, switch to the opposite side, then come back to the center.
Side Body Stretch
You can do this next exercise seated or standing. If seated, take your left hand to your left on the chair seat. If standing, bring your left hand to the back of the chair seat. Reach your right arm up to the ceiling as high as it will go and overhead to the left, getting as much elongation through the right side of your body from your right hip all the way to your right fingertips. Hold here for 30 seconds and switch to the opposite side.
Seated or Standing Cat/Cow
Stay seated or standing with your torso upright. If seated, keep your feet hip-distance apart and take your hands to your thighs. If standing, bring your hands to the chair seat with your arms straight. When you inhale, drop your stomach forward if seated, down if standing, and lift your chest. When you exhale, draw the ribs in, rounding your spine to the opposite direction, relaxing your head and neck. Repeat 5-10 times then adjust your torso to neutral spine.
If you are seated, take your hands to either side of you on your seat, bring your legs together, straighten them out in front of you and lean forward. If you are standing, forward fold bringing your hands to the chair seat, hold onto the chair legs, or hold onto opposite elbows. Take deep breaths into the back of your legs, opening up that space. Hold here for 20-30 seconds and come back to the center.
Seated Hip Stretch
Come to a seated position with your knees bent, feet hip-distance apart. Take your right ankle on top of your left knee. Take your hands and hold the chair seat and lean forward. You can also bring your hands to your right shin. Take your breath into your right hip. Hold here for 30 seconds and switch to the opposite side.
Seated Inner-Thigh Stretch
Bring your torso back to the center. Keep your knees bent and separate your feet as wide as you can. Take your hands to your thighs and lean forward. Keep your torso long and drop your right shoulder toward the midline. Hold for 10-20 seconds and switch to the opposite side. Make your way back to the center.
You can find this Chair Yoga class with Laura Burkhart as well as other exercises designed for wiser adults over 50 in Wysefit App.