I’ll bet many of you made resolutions to take better care of yourself, to change bad habits or to improve your self-care regimen. There’s one simple and easy way to make a huge difference in the way your body feels at the end of the day. Breaks. Frequent breaks.
If there’s one thing I talk clients and friends into doing for themselves – one thing that truly makes a huge difference to the body and mind – it’s taking more frequent breaks during the day. When I ask people if they take breaks when they’re at the computer all day, many say, “Oh, yes! I make sure I take a break every two or three hours!”
That’s two or three hours that your body is in one position, doing one or two movements. Two or three hours where you are quite possibly crouched over the keyboard intently focused on your work and ignoring the signs and signals your body is trying to give you to get up and MOVE!
The Nag Confesses
I confess, I am a professional nag. It’s my job to nag my clients and readers to take better care of themselves. I even nag myself as I’m working on my laptop typing this and note that it’s been 30 minutes since I sat down to start writing this. I realized last night while checking email that I’d managed to loose myself in Facebook, CNN and various blogs for two hours while sitting sideways on the couch with my laptop. I nagged myself, then jumped up and took a break.
What I Mean by “Break”
I don’t mean a 15 minute break. I don’t even mean a five minute break (although if you have the time, five minutes would be ideal). I’m talking about 30 seconds to 2 minutes. You can even do this while you’re on the phone.
If you sit all day: stand up. Lace your fingers together and stretch out your arms overhead. Stretch for a few seconds, then unlace your fingers and lean down into a forward bend (as if you were going to touch your toes). Let your head, shoulders and neck relax for 5-10 seconds. Stand back up, focus on dropping your shoulders and gently stretch your neck out side to side and front to back. Open your mouth and stretch your jaw. That’s it.
You can do more (stretch the wrists and hands with flexion and extension of the wrist, stretch the forearms and shoulders), but the simple act of standing up, stretching your shoulders and neck for a few seconds and leaning into a forward bend will make a huge difference.
You’ll notice when you sit back down you have better posture. Your shoulders will be a little lower, and your back may feel a little more stretched out. Feels good doesn’t it?
If you stand all day: lace your fingers together and stretch your arms overhead as I described above. Then slowly bend forward and reach down as if to try and touch your toes. Come back up, put your hands in the small of your back and gently lean back as if you were looking at the sky. Hold for a few seconds, then bend down again as if to touch your toes. Turn your torso to look over each shoulder a couple of times, then do the side to side neck stretches and neck rotations.
Easy, right? And it isn’t asking you to spend 10-15 minutes an hour stretching out. Don’t get me wrong; if you had the time to stretch 10 minutes an hour throughout the day, your body would feel fantastic, but lets be realistic. You’re much more likely to do the breaks and stretching if it’s only going to require a minute each time you do them.
Take a Break Every 30-45 Minutes
If you work on a computer all day, and especially if you spend long hours in one position, you need to get up for a break every 30 -45 minutes. Remember, we’re not talking about a 5 or 10 minute break. I’m talking about standing up, stretching out your arms, neck, shoulders and back and sitting back down again. Yes, it’s frequent, but it’s easy, and you can set a timer to keep track of how often you need to take a break.
You’re wondering if I really meant to type that you need a break that frequently, and the answer is yes. You do need to. Your body reacts to the position and physical motions it goes through all day. It makes muscles that are always contracted tighter, and muscles that are constantly stretched out due to posture weaker. It’s as if you’re programming that position into your body’s operating system and rewriting the static state of your bones and muscles even when you’re not working.
So, every 30 to 45 minutes. That is not a typo.
Try it for Five Days
When I talk to clients about stretching I don’t ask them to make a huge commitment. I ask them to try stretching breaks for a week. Five to seven days of short stretch break will make a measurable differences in how you feel. In five to seven days you’ll know if it will help. And you’ll have a tool to add to your toolbox for periods when the body starts to speak up.
I’d love for every client to make a commitment to stretch every 30-45 minutes for the rest of their lives, but that’s hard for some people to agree to. So try it for 5-7 days. Note how much better your body feels. Then work it into your routine for good.
It’s quick, it’s easy, and it doesn’t require a huge commitment.
So this is another nag: start taking breaks every 30-45 minutes when you’re working or on the computer. Just try it for a few days and you’ll see what a difference it will make.
Break Timers Online
You can search for all kinds of break timer software online. Some even pop up with a set of exercises and stretches for you to do at regular intervals. One free break timer I’ve used is the Scirocco Break Timer. Here’s another I haven’t tried but looks like would work just fine: Time Left. And a third that came up in my google search: Work/Break Timer.
Addendum: This Applies to Hobbies, Too!
Although this post is geared toward those who work in one position for hours at a time, it also applies to people who work on hobbies and projects for hours at a time. If you’re spending time quilting, knitting or weaving (Mom, this means you), take a break every 30-45 minutes. If you’re doing home improvement, painting, playing an instrument, or reading, get up for that break just as frequently. Just because it’s something you love to do doesn’t mean your body will forgive you for being in that position for 3 or 4 hours! So stand up and stretch to prevent paying for it later. It’ll keep you in shape to keep doing your favorite things.
Photo credit: Flickr.com CCL: User wwarby