9 Exercises to move

Don’t just sit there! MOVE!

Relieve common causes of back and neck pain. NINE easy exercise routines that you can do anywhere – even while sitting.


Exercise should be as much a way of life as eating and drinking. Exercise will make you stronger, more energetic, and more alert. I have seen clear evidence of how physical activity has helped patients who suffer from common neck and back pain. This may seem counterintuitive if you’ve ever suffered from acute neck or back pain. The truth is, the moment you stop moving is the moment that you lose mobility.


As a spine surgeon and an associate surgeon at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, I treat patients who have complaints of intense neck and back pain. Sometimes the damage to their spine is from an accident. Most of the time however, the damage is due to years of neglect.


That may sound a little harsh, but consider this perspective. Not only does exercise increase oxygen flow to the brain, muscles and all the organs of the body (making them function more efficiently), exercise also strengthens the bones and protects them from osteoporosis. Strengthening your body is the most important way to stave off common causes of neck and back pain (e.g., herniated disc).


If you’re imagining yourself spending an hour in the gym every Monday and Wednesday – sorry, that will not counteract the effects of sitting in an office chair for 8 to 10 hours. It’s a good start, but two hours on a treadmill will not counteract a lifetime sitting in an office chair.


That’s why I came up with the 4D Health process: a customized plan that combines the constructive effects of nutrition, supplements, regular health screening, and fitness. I consulted physical therapists, fitness gurus, and expert nutritionists like Dr. Philip Goglia. I used the program myself and guided dozens of patients through it – before and after surgery.


For those of you stuck behind a desk all day, we came up with the following ten stretching exercises that you can do without even moving away from your workstations. They are shown to release tension in the body from head to toe and get that blood circulating nicely.


My colleague therapists recommend that you do them every hour or so. Some of my patients set an alarm on their cell phones or computers for reminders. My friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger recommends a workout every day, even if it is only for 15 minutes – even if part of your daily exercise is at your desk.


These NINE exercises only take a few minutes, so no more excuses!

  1. Stand up and sit down: do this repeatedly without the use of your hands. Depending on your leg and knee strength, this can be a bit of a challenge. But that’s the point. This simple exercise will help with circulation, but it’ll be enough to help you shift pressure off your lower back.
  2. Shoulder Shrug: Bring both shoulders high up towards your ears. Hold for several seconds, release and drop shoulders gently back down to a natural position. Repeat four times.
  3. Circles in the Air: clench both fists, stretching both hands out in front of you. Then make circles in the air, as if drawing with your fists, first clockwise, to the count of ten, and then counter-clockwise.
  4. Arm Stretches: Stretch your left hand out horizontally in front of you and bend your wrist so that your fingers are straight as possible, pointing inward (the tips of your fingers may touch. Stretch your arms out for a full extension. Then bend your wrist so that your fingers point upward, again flat as possible and stretch your arms out for a full extension. Then twist the wrist so that the fingers point down and follow the same routine as before. Do this repeatedly all day.
  5. Leg extensions: Move away from your desk if possible and hold the seat of your chair on either side as you fully extend your legs straight out in front of you. Try to make your legs as completely parallel to the floor as possible while flexing and pointing your toes. Do this five to ten times every few hours.
  6. Mid back stretch: Fully extend one arm straight in front of you. Then with your other hand, grasp the elbow of the outstretched arm and gently pull your arm across your chest and hold for about 5 seconds. This will stretch your shoulder and upper back muscle. Use normal breathing when you do this exercise. Do the same with the other arm. I do this exercise throughout the day whether I’m sitting or standing.
  7. Leg Hug Back Stretch: Wedge the chair against the desk or wall, or lock the wheels so that the chair does not roll. You may also want to remove your shoes. Sit on the edge of your chair (be careful, please). Place your feet together on the floor, flat. Bend at the waist until your chest is above your knees. Then bring your chest as close to your knees as possible. Allow your arms to dangle on either side of your legs. Let your head gently fall forward. Take it to the next level and grasp your lower legs (ankles, if you can reach) and pull your chest closer to your knees. Repeat three times, or as often as it feels good.
  8. Head rotations: Sit up tall in your chair, or stand up. Lift your chin up, tilt your head back, Inhale, exhale, release. Then look down. Inhale, exhale, release. Look left and hold, again inhaling and exhaling. Look right and repeat.
  9. Walking: Rather than use the phone or send an email, walk to your colleague’s office and deliver your message in person. It’ll be better for interpersonal office relations, and you’ll get the blood circulating throughout your body. Do one better and avoid elevators; take the stairs if possible. Don’t take lunch at your desk. Walk to a neighborhood restaurant. Walking helps pump oxygen to the brain.


This is how we can all be greater than better.