Doctors, athletes, and everyday Americans share how they reduce:
- the negative effects of sitting
- muscle soreness naturally
- stiffness in the morning
And if you’re a heavy sitter, or have stayed even remotely up to date with health news in the last decade, you know that sitting is straight-up bad for us.
But unlike some health woes, there’s something we can do about our sitting sickness. In fact, there are a few things:
1. Get up and walk every hour
According to Sarah Kostyukovsky, PT, DPT, OCS, sitting for prolonged periods of time can shorten certain muscle groups—like our hip flexors—and put other muscles in a position where they’re not active—like our glutes.
Taking walk breaks, even short ones, can activate our glutes and lengthen the front of the hips, essentially counteracting the physiological harm of sitting. That isn’t to say that getting up to fill your water a few times a day is going to reverse all the side effects, but we should always be looking for ways to break up our sitting with movement.
2. Water, hot, and cold compress
“Start simple. Dehydration can cause muscle soreness, hydration can help prevent it and clear it. It’s not a quick fix, it’s a general self-care tip. Stay hydrated!” recommended by CrossFit Athlete Mike J.
“Taking a bath with Epsom salts the night before seems to make things less painful for me the next morning.” — Angie K. (Triathlon Athlete)
A warm shower or bath is a natural muscle relaxer, which can be great for tension knotted shoulders or muscles tight from overuse. While an ice pack used to be recommended for muscle sprains, research now indicates that cold slows down the body’s healing process.
After a full day of working or being out and about, our first inclination is usually to kick back and relax—when what we should be doing is stretching it out. If you’ve ever gotten up from sitting for a long time and your hips felt stiff, you understand why. Kostyukovsky recommends doing a hip flexor lunge stretch or a standing quadriceps stretch when you get home, and even throughout the day. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds at a time on each side and repeat as necessary (until your hips and quads feel like they’ve loosened up a bit).
“Stretch in bed prior to getting up. Make sure to stretch everything, including your smaller joints. This can decrease the pain and stiffness that you may experience later on.” — Dr. Dalla Tor
4. Be active outside of your workday
If you haven’t already guessed, physical activity can help us counteract the negative impact of sitting. And while getting up during the day, going for walks, and stretching can make a difference, they’re no replacement for moving and strengthening your body through exercise.
Current guidelines recommend that adults do 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days a week, but we tend to take the stance that doing something (ideally often) is better than nothing. Consistency is key—so we advise working exercise into your daily routine in a sustainable way (avoiding unrealistic wakeup calls at all costs). Even if you can only manage 10 or 15 minutes a day, if done consistently, you can reap the benefits.
5. Adjust your office chair and environment
In terms of small but impactful tweaks that you can make to reduce sitting symptoms, fixing your office chair (or wherever you sit the most) and work environment is paramount.
“You want to make sure you have lumbar support to maintain the natural curve in your low back,” Kostyukovsky says. “If you don’t have a great chair, you can purchase a lumbar support pillow or roll up a towel and prop that behind your low back.”
Another overlooked (and usually adjustable) aspect of our chairs is the height. If your chair is too high or too low, it will throw off your body’s alignment.
“When sitting, your hips should be above the level of your knees,” Kostyukovsky says. “Your feet should be planted on the ground underneath your knees.”
If your chair is too high, you can consider putting a box under your feet to prop them up, and if your chair is too low and can’t be adjusted, it may be time to search for another.
Wood chairs, metal chairs, small chairs, tall chairs—whatever you have at your disposal, there are ways to adjust it to fit your alignment needs, which, in turn, will make the hours you spend sitting less debilitating. Or if you’re super dedicated, grab a standing desk (and stand with good posture, of course).
6. Essential oils
A number of essential oils and essential oils blends may be helpful for muscle pain relief.
- Cramps: Try lemongrass with peppermint and marjoram
- Spasms: Top recommended oils are basil, marjoram and chamomile.
- Tension: Try marjoram, peppermint, helichrysum, lavender chamomile.
To use an essential oil for muscle pain, add one to two drops of the essential oil into one tablespoon of carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil or olive oil, and apply to the affected area.
“I swear by essential oils. On mornings that are really rough, I use deep blue polyphenol complex, frankincense, lavender, and ginger. I make a concoction and rub them on my hands.” — Elisabeth L.
7. Squeeze in as much movement as you can
A wise fitness editor once said, “The only way to combat a sedentary life is with an active lifestyle.” Yes, that was me, but the point is that movement does add up. Fifteen minutes here, five minutes there—the more you can fit into your day, the better. Going for a longer walk during lunch, taking a break to stretch, or doing some yoga poses when you wake up can make all the difference when it comes to your physical and mental health.
Do some calf raises the next time you’re standing in line. Take the longer route when you walk home. Knock out a quick ab circuit before your evening shower, or take a walk with your partner after dinner. Movement is movement—it accumulates and means something. But to be clear: Any movement isn’t always enough movement. Capitalize on the various moments of downtime during your day—you’ll be surprised how much you can fit in if you try.
8. Watch what you eat
“Changing my diet to eat more foods like salmon and nuts and less food like bread and sugar made a big difference in how swollen my joints are in the morning. Less swelling means less pain — as long as I stick to it.” — Annette H.
“I take turmeric capsules the first thing when I wake up every morning and I feel like they’ve helped a lot with my morning stiffness, especially when I’m consistent. If you don’t like to take supplements you can also make turmeric tea.” — Melinda P.
“Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers and it can be used topically over symptomatic joints first thing in the morning to help ease the pain. It doesn’t work for everyone, but some find it helpful. Be careful, it does burn a little at first!!” — Don R. Martin, MD, a rheumatologist with Sentara RMH Rheumatology
“Overnight oats are my favorite breakfast. You put all the ingredients together in a jar the night before, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. There are tons of yummy recipes online. Having an easy healthy breakfast that doesn’t have to be cooked makes my mornings much smoother.”
“My other favorite breakfast are protein smoothies. I take yogurt, berries (or whatever fruit you like), spinach, and protein powder and freeze them together in sandwich bags. Then all I have to do in the morning is dump the frozen mix into the blender, add water, and blend.” — Catherine K.
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