Stretching the possibilities for health

We all know that regular exercise not only helps us fit into our favourite outfits all year long but also that physical activity 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. “On days when employees visited the gym, their experience at work changed. They reported managing their time more effectively, being more productive, and having smoother interactions with their colleagues. Just as important: they went home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day.”1

Melanie Jones, executive assistant to Charlie Armstrong, SVP chief Branding and Communications officer, has experienced it 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 nutritionalist, 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? Jones suggests the following three stretches you can do from the comfort of your work station.


Work on your posture while seated by straightening your back and stacking your shoulders directly over your hipbones.


Lean forward. Interlace hands behind your lower back and bring your shoulder blades together. Look down to elongate the stretch.


Slowly lift your right arm up over your head. Without twisting the torso, lean your entire upper body to the left, stretching out the right side of your body. Repeat on the left side.

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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