6 Dynamic Stretches You Can Do At Your Desk

November 2022

We all know that regular exercise has immeasurable health benefits — from heart disease prevention to increased flexibility. And our brains also get a workout, according to a Leeds Metropolitan University study. The study monitored employees and their productivity at work after they went to the gym.

On days they visited the gym, they reported “managing their time more effectively, being more productive, and having smoother interactions with their colleagues.” They also went home feeling satisfied and happy at the end of the day.

Melanie Jones, an executive assistant in the Branding and Communications department at Manulife, has experienced this phenomenon firsthand. As a volunteer yoga instructor at Manulife’s Toronto office, she’s no stranger to the benefits of staying active, especially while at the office. “The class is 45 minutes over the lunch hour and people feel as though they’re starting their weekend early. They can go back to their desks refreshed, rather than run down.” Jones says.

She also leads a 10-minute stretching session in her department on Wednesday afternoons. This helps to break up the week and requires less of a time commitment while retaining many of the benefits.

“Nobody gets changed (into workout gear). I’ll lead simple shoulder stretches, or bending and flexing in the legs to get the blood flowing. Generally, I try to incorporate stretches and movements that counter our everyday desk posture,” says Jones. “People are responding well, and walking away refreshed. And while I’m leading the stretches, Natalie Merglesky, a communications specialist for the Manulife Branding and Communications team who is also a holistic nutritionist, prepares a healthy snack or energizing tea for everyone to enjoy post-stretch.”

But what if you don’t even have time to leave your desk? Here are 6 stretches you can do from the comfort of your work station.

Improve that posture

When you’re sitting at your desk for long hours each day, you may have a tendency to start leaning towards your computer or hunching over. Work on improving your posture while seated by straightening your back and stacking your shoulders directly over your hip bones. Any time you notice yourself hunching forward, bring yourself back to your stacked shoulders pose.

Stretch your back

Sore back? Lean forward. Interlace hands behind your lower back and bring your shoulder blades together. Look down to elongate the stretch. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 5 times.

Give your lats some love

Ready to stretch those lats? Slowly lift your right arm up over your head. Bend it slightly over your head — grab your wrist with your opposite arm and gently pull down on your lifted arm for a deeper stretch.  Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times and then repeat with your left arm.

A one-armed hug

Take your right arm and stretch it across your body and grab your opposite shoulder. To deepen the stretch, use your left arm to push on the elbow of your right arm. You should feel this stretch on the outside of your upper arm and shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times on each arm.

Touch the sky

For another great back stretch, all you need to do is reach for the sky! Interlace both hands above your head, with your palms facing the ceiling. Use your improved posture exercise to sit up straight, then push your palms upwards. This will elongate your spine and feel great in your back. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.

Stretch your calves

While sitting at your desk, straighten your legs and bend at the hips towards your toes. While doing this, make sure you keep your back straight. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.

If you’re not already active, start slowly and ramp up gradually, says Jones. It can be as simple as exercising at your desk to taking a class designed for your skill level. You just have to show up and give it a try!

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