Our lives involve a lot of sitting—in the office chair, snugly on a couch, in the car while stuck in traffic jams. It’s an unnatural position for the body, and can lead to injuries in the long run: repetitive strain injuries, weakened muscles, and decreased flexibility in the neck, shoulder, back, lower back and knees, causing pain and stiffness, says Immanuel Paul, manager, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, Columbia Asia Hospital, Bengaluru.

According to a study published in September in the Annals Of Internal Medicine, longer bouts of sitting are directly correlated to greater risk of death. “However, you can use the same chair as a tool," says Paul, “if you can take out 20 minutes in your day during office hours and stretch those muscle groups."

Our experts list a few exercises that enable you to use your chair as a prop.

Soften those shoulders

Thoracic extension: Hold the back of your chair with your hands. Keeping the arms straight, push forward, expanding your chest by squeezing your shoulder blades. “Now try and look back on either side," says Kamal Chhikara, owner and head coach, Reebok CrossFit Robust, a fitness studio in Delhi, “and you’ll open up your chest, reducing shoulder pain."

Flex the spine

Rotational stretch: Inhale and place your right hand on the outside part of the left knee and wound your left arm behind the chair. As you exhale, push your left leg with your right arm and rotate your spine without moving your hips. “Imagine squeezing water out of a wet towel," says Vesna Pericevic Jacob, founder of Vesna’s Alta Celo, a fitness studio in Delhi.

Forward bend: Inhale, raise your arms overhead. Now as you exhale, fold forward from the waist, slowly taking your chest towards the thighs. Let your arms touch the floor and relax your shoulders. “Think that your shoulder blades are falling away from the neck. Relax completely," says Dr Paul. This releases tension from the spine, and stretches the lower back and hamstring muscles, he explains.

Sort out the knee

Knee lifts: Tie the elastic inner-tube of a bicycle tyre or a TheraBand resistive exercise band to the leg of the chair. Loop the band around your right foot in the sitting position. Now slowly push your leg up and straighten your knee and then slowly take it back to the sitting position. Do this for 1-2 minutes and repeat with the left foot. “Aim for 10-15 repetitions, twice a day," says Ameet Pispati, director, orthopaedic surgery department, Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai.

Sit-stands: Sit on a chair and fold your arms across your chest. Get up slowly and stand straight. Slowly, sit back the same way. Repeat this movement for 1 minute to strengthen your knees and get rid of knee pain, says Dr Pispati.

Open your hip joints

Hip adduction: Keep your feet together. Make a fist or use a tennis ball and place it between your knees. Squeeze your knees together, hold for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat five times.“This strengthens your inner thighs and knees," says Dr Paul.

Hip abduction: Tie a resistance band around your legs, just above the knees. Slowly move your knees apart as far as you can get, working against the resistance of the band. “Repeat this two-three times and you’ll strengthen your glutes, tensor fascia latae muscles that work to draw your leg away from your body," says Vinod Channa, a celebrity fitness expert based in Mumbai.

Hip flexion: Sit on the edge of the chair and lean back, straightening the spine. Bring your left leg up and hug your knee close to your chest. Hold for 10 seconds, then alternate, to open up your hip joints, says Dr Paul.

Piriformis stretch: Place your right ankle on your left thigh, keeping the right leg parallel to the floor. Inhale, place both arms on your right leg, and gently push it downwards. As you exhale, push yourself forward from your hips, keeping the back straight and taking your chest towards the right leg without stressing the shoulders. Stay in this position till the count of five. “This helps people suffering from pain in the sciatic nerve," says Jacob.

Flutter kicks: To strengthen your hips, says Dr Paul, sit on the edge of the chair, place your hands on the back. Now raise both legs, keeping them parallel to the floor. Kick the left leg up and right down. Alternate.

Lengthen your legs

Hamstring contraction: Sit on the edge of the chair, arms by the side. Extend your right leg out straight, toes touching the floor. Flex your foot so that the right heel remains on the floor. Contract your hamstring muscles and press your heel on the floor. Now lift the leg, slowly, as high as you can without rounding your back. “This engages the shins, ankle and hamstring muscles," explains Dr Paul.

Half squat: Stand in front of the chair, facing away from it, with your feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, shoulder down, toes pointed slightly outward. Slowly lower your body down and back, as if you are sitting on the chair until your thighs touch the chair. Rise back up slowly and repeat 10 times. “This will build your quads, hip muscles and hamstring core," says Channa.

Grease your ankles

Ankle rolls: Lift your left foot a little. Without changing the angle of your leg and keeping the back straight, write your name with your toes, rotating your ankle. “This stretches and flexes the ankle to the maximum," says Chhikara.

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Keep in mind

Starting position: Sit straight on the edge of the chair, feet hip-width apart, with your stomach pulled in and abs tightened. Keep your feet firmly on the ground, thighs parallel to the floor and knees at 90 degrees to the body.

Stable chair: Go for a strong chair without wheels, preferably with armrests and not too soft.

Free your neck

Reach for the stars: Interlace your fingers and reach towards the sky, as high as you can, keeping your palms facing up, towards the ceiling, says Yash Gulati, senior consultant, orthopaedics, joint replacement and spine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi.

Neck flexion: Bring your chin towards the chest, and hold the position. Return it to an upright position and move your head back. Hold. Bend your neck towards the right, touching the ear to the right shoulder. Hold. Do the same on the left. Now gently rotate your neck from right to back to left to front. Fifteen repetitions in the morning and evening every day should be enough to improve posture and avoid cervical spondylosis, says Ameet Pispati, director, orthopaedic surgery, at Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai

Upper trapezius stretch: Place your right hand on the left side of your head, fingers pointing downwards. Inhale and gently bend your head towards the right shoulder. Repeat twice to ease the stress in your neck, says Vesna Pericevic Jacob, founder of the Delhi-based fitness studio Vesna’s Alta Celo.

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