How to Effectively Take Breaks to Protect Your Spine

January 14, 2019

Take a walk at work to promote good spine health
Renée Bacher

Are you stuck at a desk for a big chunk of the day? Has your back started hurting? Standing and taking regular breaks from your chair can not only improve spine health but also teach your body how to prevent health problems that can threaten your life.

The Dangers of Sitting Too Long

Mayo Clinic reports that sitting for long periods is linked to long-term chronic health problems such as obesity, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. Being sedentary can even increase your risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease. Additionally, NPR notes that hunching over a desk can make your spine form a "C" shape. This puts pressure unevenly on the discs between the vertebrae that make up your spine. Constant, uneven pressure on the spine can make those discs slip out of place, which can cause chronic pain, and sometimes even require surgery.

Taking a break to stand, stretch or walk around the office straightens the spine, which takes that pressure off the discs and can prevent one from moving out of place. You can also improve your circulation and boost your mood, and you'll actually burn significantly more calories than from sitting.

Learn how to improve spine health and how to prevent health problems at the same time:

Set a Vibrating Timer on Your Phone

Some office setups allow employees to stand while working as much as they would like. If that sounds like your office, set a timer on your phone to stand up every 30 minutes for five minutes throughout the day. If your office life is more regimented, figure out how many episodes of standing or walking around the office while working would be acceptable and set the timer accordingly. Set it to refill your water bottle, get coffee or a snack, take bathroom breaks and even to talk to coworkers in-person instead of checking in by email or phone.

Phone Call? Don't Answer That Sitting Down

Make it a policy that when your phone rings you stand to answer it and you don't sit down until you hang up. Is there room for pacing in your office while you talk? If so, make calls and walk around. If you work in an office that's more than one story high, see if you can have a phone conversation while walking up or down a flight of stairs. If you wear a step counter, take note of how many more steps you log the first day that you try this.

Make That Meeting a Meeting-in-Motion

Need to meet with a colleague to discuss a project or come up with an innovative solution? A study showed that walking meetings can boost creativity — the atmosphere is more relaxed and you may feel more engaged. You may also be more likely to remember what you discussed afterwards. When you get back to your desk, quickly email your colleagues a recap of the meeting. And if you can do that while standing, even better!

Lunch Time? Walk it Out

Keep in mind that a walking meeting may be a break for your spine, but it's not a break for your mind. There are times when walking alone may be the kind of break that both your spine and mind need. The best time to get in a solo walk may be during your lunch hour. Make sure to change into comfortable walking shoes. Once out, commit to giving your mind a break, or focus on the sights and sounds all around you as you recharge.

Start Tomorrow

Set those phone timers tonight before bed and at work tomorrow pop up for a quick trip to the bathroom, the water fountain or just to stand in place for five minutes every time your phone vibrates. When your landline rings, take that as your signal to stand when you answer it and pace, if possible. And if you can work in a walking meeting with a colleague or even just a 15-minute stroll through the building on your lunch hour, do it and see how you feel at the end of the day.

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