Working Healthy

Keep Fit While You Sit

Hunching over client’s nails eight hours a day can lead to neck stiffness and back pain. Here’s how to strengthen the muscles that hold you up.

Sitting all day can give you more than the unattractive condition known as “secretary spread.” Bending over your work puts your body out of balance, and the overworked muscles that try to compensate often end up sore and tired at day’s end. Rounded shoulders, a drooping chest, a stiff neck, and a strained upper back are the results of improper posture. Worse, a slumping body makes you feel and look worn out.

Fortunately, you don’t have to succumb to the seat. You can make sure your chair supports your body and keeps you at the proper level. You should concentrate on maintaining good posture at all times, difficult as that may be. Exercise also helps. Strong back, abdominal, and leg muscles can help prevent the problems that come from prolonged sitting.

To create the most conducive working arrangement, start with your chair. The seat should be just high enough so that your thighs and calves from right angles when you’re sitting. Does the chair back support your lower back? It should. Adjust the chair or use a pillow to take up any extra chair depth. The table should be at a comfortable height for you, allowing you to work without needing to slump or raise your shoulders.

Good balance leads to good posture. When you’re standing or sitting, your neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips should create an imaginary straight line. Check your posture in a mirror---if it doesn’t stack up right, doing a few exercises each day can help you improve it.

Learn to sit on your “sitting bones,” located at the base of the buttocks, rather than back on the fuller part of the buttocks. Sitting properly will help keep your back free from muscle tension. When you lean forward to grasp a client’s hand, bend from the hips, not the stomach. Have clients move closer to you so that you don’t have to reach for their hands or lean over to hold them.

Finally, incorporate exercise into your workday. We’ve described here two sets of exercises. The first five, which can be done in a chair at work, will help keep your muscles loose and your mind on correct posture. The second set of exercises are to be done at home. They work to strengthen the back, abdomen, and legs to keep you sitting pretty and feeling energetic all day long.



To relax the shoulders and the upper back, clasp your hands behind your head and pull your shoulder blades together. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat five to 10 times. See diagram 1



To relax the neck after leaning forward, tuck in your chin and hold for a second or two before releasing. Repeat five to 10 times. Add a gentle neck roll or two to release tension further. See diagram 2


When you find yourself slumping, try this exercise: Clasp your hands behind your back and raise them as high as you can. Hold and release. Repeat five to 10 times. See diagram 3


You can do this exercise even while working on a client. Simply tighten your buttocks and hold. If you tighten your stomach muscles as well, you’ll get double the benefits. Periodically tightening your muscles throughout the day tones the body’s “natural girdle,” which supports the back.


Try this between clients to relax the upper body. Sit in a chair with your hands resting on your thighs. Exhale as you lower your chin and round your back. Keep rounding your back until you’re bent double over your legs. Allow your hands to slide toward your ankles. Remain limp for a few seconds, then inhale and curl back up into a sitting position. Repeat three to five times. See diagram 4


To stretch your shoulder blades lie face down with your hands clasped behind you. Lift your arms and pulse them upward 10 times. Repeat each set three to five times. Tightening your buttocks during this exercise gives you extra toning. See diagram 5


Strong stomach muscles help keep your back healthy by supporting it. For this exercise, lie on your back. Lift your legs and head just off the floor. Lift both arms about two inches above the floor and pulse them up and down, 100 times, as if you’re pushing something behind you. Don’t worry if you can’t reach 100 at first; start with 25 or 50 and progress from there.


A cat’s flexible back helps it keep its balance. You can stay flexible by mimicking a cat. Stretch and strengthen your spine with this exercise: Get down on your elbows and knees, placing your head on your hands. Exhale, constracting your stomach  muscles and rounding your back slowly. Hold for a few seconds then return your back to the original position---but don’t let your back arch. Do this exercise 10 times. See diagram 6


To tone thighs and calves, stand with one hand resting on a table or chair for support, heels together, toes turned out. Rise up your toes, then bend knees until you’re in a half-squatting position. Keep your back straight. Slowly come back to the starting position. Repeat 10 to 20 times. See diagram 7


To strengthen legs, start by lying face down, hands at your sides. Keep your legs straight and curl your toes under as if you’re preparing to do push-ups. Tighten your buttocks and raise your right leg without bending the knee, then lower the leg. Repeat this exercise eight to 10 times on the right leg, then eight to 10 times on the left. See diagram 8

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