If so many of us are always busy, why are our bodies getting weaker and weaker? It’s mainly because we spend so much time sitting! The less we move, the more muscle mass we lose, leaving us vulnerable to injury—not to mention increased risk for obesity, diabetes and stroke. But all is not lost.

Bottom Line Health turned to exercise physiologist Tom Holland, MS, CPT, who shared his four favorite exercises for people who are stuck in their chairs…*

EXERCISE #1: No-Hand Get-Ups. When we sit for prolonged periods, our powerful butt muscles or “glutes” (gluteus maximus and gluteus medius) begin to atrophy. Weak glutes can affect posture and movement, which can translate into knee injuries and hip problems as other muscles try to compensate for our deconditioned glutes.

What to do: Start from a seated position. Then…

  • Stand up from the chair—without using your hands to push off or grab hold of anything. That’s it.
  • Stand up relatively slowly, to a count of about two seconds. Extend your arms straight out in front of you to help your balance.
  • Then lower yourself back down even more slowly, to a count of four seconds. This controlled movement—working against gravity—tones your muscles.
  • Repeat five to 10 times daily.

EXERCISE #2: Butt-Pain Stretch. When people complain of a mysterious pain in their backside, the cause is often due to overuse of the piriformis, a muscle deep inside the glute that extends from the pelvis to the outer hip. Because the piriformis is a major part of our lower-body infrastructure, that “pain in the butt” is a warning that additional pains (including hip pain and low-back pain) are yet to come if this one is ignored.

What to do: To get a good piriformis stretch and eliminate the pain… 

  • Cross your right leg over your left leg so that your right ankle rests on your left knee. You may feel some tension in the upper-back portion of your right thigh.
  • Gently press your right knee toward the ground, breathing into the stretch. You should feel a stretch in the muscle deep in your buttocks. You should not feel any stress on the knee itself—if you do, try pressing on the inside of the lower thigh just above the knee. Stretch only as far as is comfortable.
  • Lean slightly forward, and hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Switch legs and repeat. Do two to three repetitions per side a few times a day.

EXERCISE #3: Chair Crunches. This simple exercise works your abdominal core muscles to help prevent low-back pain and other sore muscles and joints.

What to do: To build your core, lean slightly back in your chair. Then…

  • Lift both knees up so that you are balanced and your feet are six to 10 inches off the ground. (If you are sitting on a couch, scoot toward the front of the cushion, lean back slightly and start from there.)
  • Hold that position for 30 seconds…or as long as you can. This exercise is about time, not repetition. Be sure to keep your shoulders down and relaxed, and remember to breathe normally. Do this exercise once to several times a day.

EXERCISE #4: Twist Stretch. This back stretch sounds more complicated than it is…and once you try it, you’ll wonder how you ever got through a day without it.

What to do: To get started, sit up straight with both feet flat on the floor. Then…

  • Place your left hand on the outside of your right knee.
  • Place your right hand on the outside of the right armrest of the chair.
  • Rotate your upper body to the right. You should feel a stretch in your lower back. Your head should follow along naturally with your upper body. Stretch only as far as is comfortable. Hold the stretch for a count of five, remembering to breathe throughout the stretch. Note: If you feel pain, stop—this exercise should not cause any pain.
  • Then switch. Place your right hand on the outside of your left knee…with your left hand, hold the outside of the left armrest of the chair…and rotate your upper body to the left.

Repeat the cycle (turning once on each side) a total of three times. If you sit for long periods (especially in a confined space, such as an airline seat), try to do this stretch at least once every 15 to 30 minutes.

*If you are wearing shoes with a heel greater than one inch, take them off before doing these exercises.

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