for Urban Professionals & Other Skeptics in a Rush
March 20, 2013 in Physical Health
#2 Sit on an exercise ball at your desk.
Wait! Before you succumb to the picture in your mind of your colleagues laughing hysterically as they walk by your office (or cubicle), consider this. I was that woman at a large financial institution in New York City. My colleagues had come to expect this type of health voodoo thing from me, so it was just a matter of degree. I shamelessly sat on my exercise ball, enjoying tremendous relief from back pain, strengthening my core, and doing what only the strong do best: starting a little health revolution by example.
When it’s obvious that you’re feeling good, people become curious about how and why – they want to feel good too! I ended up running their health and wellness program, and you can read some testimonials on my website about how that changed lives and organizational spirit where I worked. So…read on and get ready to work with healthier, happier people (and be one too).
Spending long stints at your desk is a primary cause of low back pain, however good your posture is, or expensive your chair is. We tend to slouch at our desks, relaxing core muscles, collapsing into the hips and low back, arching our shoulders and neck forward, and keeping hip flexors compressed for extended periods of time. While a post-it style reminder to yourself to maintain good posture may help a little, sitting on an exercise ball provides a physical reminder so that you can focus on your work, and not on a clutter of post-its. It’s also better for your body.
No matter how much counter-stretching and counter-strengthening you do at the gym or in yoga, you spend a lot more time at your desk. Spend it well. Sitting on an exercise ball forces you to keep your core engaged instead of collapsed, and encourages constant gentle movement (since the ball rolls) so that hip flexors, low back, hips, and thighs stay mobile throughout the day. Some people even find that their nervous snacking habit turns into a subtle movement one, meaning that mindless desk-snacking is replaced with a core-strengthening and hip-liberating movement practice.
It’s also pretty fun, and having fun generally leads to being more creative. You may find yourself rocking out from time to time, taking a sponteanous movement moment.
I don’t recommend abandoning your desk chair entirely right away, because it takes time to build up the endurance to be able to sit up straight all day. As often as you can, slide that desk chair over and sit on your shiny new exercise ball. When you need to slouch, switch back and take a rest. Eventually you’ll be sitting up straight for longer, standing taller, and noticing that your abdominal muscles are more toned.
Go for basics. Do not get the exercise ball with a chair attachment, but a firm exercise ball that is free to roll, without a lumbar support, at the height recommended for your height (all the websites that sell exercise balls have height guidelines). I suggest getting an “anti-burst” one, not because of burst rates for regular exercise balls, but because they are only marginally more expensive, and it seems worth the extra few dollars to not embarrass yourself at the office (or in front of yourself if you work from home).
Finally, if you’re in a private office or particularly collegial work environment, enjoy the ultimate desk-stretch of walking your feet forward and arching your back over the ball (see photo). This is the opposite of how you position your body at a desk and should feel excellent – just in case you can’t make it to yoga or the gym that day.
Did this tip help you? Please let me know! I would love to hear from you by email: rachel[at]rachelschipper[dot]com.
Could this information help someone you know? Please pass it on.
This is part 2 of a 5-part series on back pain relief, offering one practice a day for 5 days.
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