Stretch Breaks At Work – 5 Tricks To Stay Active At Your Desk Job

by: Scott Pierce (founder, blogger & ergonomic consultant)

Hundreds of research reports now have it in black and white that chaining yourself to your desk throughout the shift does more harm than good.

Most employees forfeit regular breaks to have a good standing in their workplaces, and to avoid being judged as less hardworking by the employer and other employees.

However, contrary to most people’s belief, studies show that prolonged sitting actually leads to underperformance. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Sitting for long periods has also been linked to a cluster of health concerns and diseases including high blood pressure, increased sugar levels, excess body fat, reduced metabolism, obesity, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and heart diseases.

Mind you, hitting the gym for hours on end after job hours isn’t enough excuse not to have several stretch breaks during your shift.

Taking breaks at work boosts your creativity and of course you can use this time to socialize with other workers
Taking breaks at work is not only beneficial for your creativity, but you can also use this time to socialize with other workers

Importance Of Taking Breaks and Stretching At Work

Here’s the science behind breaks and stretches.

Breaks Boost Productivity

It’s quite counterintuitive to argue that taking several breaks from your work actually makes you more productive. But that’s the truth.

According to a recent survey, the concentration span of a human being ranges from 15 minutes to 40 minutes. Reason? Well, our brain isn’t wired to focus on one thing alone.

Work in an office mainly involves logical thinking and making decisions. These 2 activities take place in the prefrontal cortex – an “ever busy” part of the brain that is also involved in making other critical connections that involve personality expression and moderating social behavior.

As you can imagine, as you work on a single task for so long, it becomes very easy to lose focus and get lost in lots of other things going on in your brain.

On the other hand, taking a few minutes from the work in hand, refreshes and recharges the mind thereby helping you to re-focus on your goals.

Taking break at work and solving problems may actually help you to boost your creativity and find a solution - in psychology it is called an incubation
Taking break at work may actually help you to boost your creativity and find a solution to a problem that you got stuck with for a long time! In psychology this effect is called an incubation

It Makes You More Creative

A recharged brain will also help spark creative ideas on the parts of the job that you seem to struggle with besides helping you make well-informed decisions. This affirms why judges give more lenient parole judgments at the beginning of the workday and immediately after food breaks according to this study.

It Improves Your Flexibility

Albeit very important both at work and home, chairs/seats are the biggest known enemy to the human body.

Our body isn’t meant to sit or lean. Actually, every joint, muscle, and ligament is designed to allow walking, standing, bending, squatting, and lying down with ease and without pressure.

“Forcing” ourselves into chairs has in the long-run tilted the hip to one side in addition to pressing the glutes and hamstrings.

This leads to muscular imbalances which eventually cause a shift from the natural s-structure of the spine (healthy posture) to a crooked C posture. This crooked sitting posture puts a lot of pressure on the upper and lower back thereby affecting you both physically and mentally.

As you can probably imagine, sitting on the best ergonomic office chair isn’t enough; you also need to stretch regularly to minimize pressure build-up especially around your hip area and upper back.

5 Tips to Remain Active at Work

1. Stand Up Regularly

In report findings published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers suggest standing for 2-4 hours especially for employees who may not be able to exercise mid-shift.

They note that employees who stand for 1 hour burn up to 80 calories compared to those who sit throughout their sit and, therefore, have a lower risk of obesity.

In addition, standing up regularly alters poor sitting postures thereby altering poor sitting posture which could lead to musculoskeletal pains and fatigue.

2. Take A Walk

Researchers agree that static standing for prolonged hours is as harmful as sitting. So, rather than stand near your desk during break time, you could take that time to check on a colleague you haven’t heard from throughout the weekend.

3. Don’t forego that lunch break

Almost two-thirds of American office employees eat at their desks. I’m sorry, but munching on that sandwich as you try to respond to a bunch of emails doesn’t make you a multitasking role model. If anything, it only increases your risk of obesity.

Don't skip your lunch break - use it to chat with your colleagues
Don’t skip your lunch break – use it to catch up with your colleagues (and give your body and brain a quick rest from work)

Beyond “refueling”, that long-forgotten lunch break is meant to allow your brain some minutes off work. And this has a tremendous impact on performance.

In a 2017 research report published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, employees who got a 10-minute lunch break 3-4 days per week reported that they felt more energetic.

Importantly, another study by Professor Brian Wansink found out that workers who ate together were more likely to treat each other in helpful and altruistic ways.

4. Skip the elevator

We all understand the benefits of taking the stairs only that we are either in a hurry or just lazy. Doctors and health practitioners worldwide advocate stair climbing because it not only exercises our bones and muscles, but it also increases our heart rate thereby lowering the risk of high blood pressure, clogged arteries, and weight gain.

Taking the stairs is among other incidental physical activities that have been linked to mental health too. It does so by triggering the release of endorphins (a.k.a feel-good hormones). Climbing a freight of stairs also offers you a great time to think and reflect- 2 important tenets of managing tension and stress at the workplace.

Take the stairs instead of using the elevator - it's one of the tricks that will help you to avoid problems caused by prolonged sitting
Take the stairs instead of using the elevator – it’s one of the tricks that will help you to avoid problems caused by prolonged sitting

5. Stretch

Do you know that it’s possible to exercise without leaving your desk? Here are a few simple exercises that you can do at your workstation:

  • Seated leg raises – straighten one leg and hold it mid-air for a few seconds. Repeat this for 15 reps with each leg
  • Abs squeeze – take a deep breathe and pull your abdominal muscles inwards toward the spine. Hold the muscles squeezed for 5-10 seconds and repeat for 15 reps
  • Hand and forearm stretch – starting with your hand open, make a fist with your thumb straight. Next, slide your fingertips up against your palm up to the base. Hold it tight for a few seconds
  • Wrist stretches – hold your hand open and facing down and gently bend the wrist from side to side holding it for 3-5 seconds
  • Shoulder shrug – raise your shoulders high towards your ears until there is a slight tension. Hold the shoulders there for 5 seconds and repeat 3 times
  • Neck relaxer – hold your head straight and shoulders relaxed. Bend your head on one side trying to touch the shoulders with your ear. When it can’t move anymore, bend your chin towards your chest and then turn to the other side.
  • Chest stretch – interlock your fingers at the back of your head then try to move the hands away from the head to squeeze the shoulder blades and stretch your chest
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