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It’s exam time again! Here are a few simple tips to help keep your body free of pain during the long, gruelling hours spent sitting at your desk.
Sitting at your desk is meant to be the most constructive way to study … right? However, I’m sure I can comfortably say that I am not the only one who has experienced an aching pain in my neck and upper back after sitting hunched over my study material for hours on end.
By slouching and sitting with bad posture, you place a lot of strain on your spine and the muscles in your upper and lower back. Pain in your neck, upper back and shoulders can occur as a result of bending your head forward over your work. By sitting in this tilted-head position, your muscles are constantly tensed and straining to support the weight of your head, which results in stiff and aching muscles in the upper back and neck, especially if you maintain this position over extended periods of time. The rounded, hunched position of the upper back can also result in shoulder pain. Now, for the scariest side effect of all: the vertebrae of the lower neck are also affected when you sit in this position, which in turn can result in the degeneration or breakdown of the vertebrae in your spine!
Sitting correctly in your chair can help you to alleviate the pain associated with studying at a desk. In order to sit correctly, you should sit with your back flat and upright against the back of the chair and both feet should be placed flat on the floor. Ideally, your notes should be propped up at eye level, to avoid bending your head and shoulders forward over your work. (Quick tip: you can use a recipe book holder that your mom uses in the kitchen to do this.) If you are studying or working with a laptop or desktop computer, make sure that you adjust the screen and the height to ensure that it is at eye level.
Ideally, you should use an adjustable office chair with a high back for good support. However, if you do not have access to one of these chairs, do not despair! There are a few ways that you can easily improve the comfort and suitability of your chair. In order to increase back support, you can place a small rolled towel or small pillow between your chair and lower back: this will cause your lower back to arch a little and this will help to prevent your shoulders and head from slumping forward when you start to get tired. As an alternative, you could ditch the back support altogether and sit on a Swiss exercise ball! An exercise ball, you might ask? Yes, you read right! By sitting in an upright, straight-backed position on the ball, you will strengthen your core muscles, which in turn helps to improve your posture.
Ideally, you should try to move around and stretch the muscles in your body between every 30 and 45 minutes of desk time: whether it be a bathroom break or a quick walk around your bedroom. Performing a few quick and easy neck and back stretches will also help to relieve your muscles, thereby making your body more comfortable and relaxed once you get back to hitting the books (see pictures of stretches below). A comfortable and relaxed body means that you can concentrate better, and isn’t that exactly what we aim to achieve during the exam period?
My last piece of advice for you would be to exercise for at least 30 to 40 minutes a day, five or six times a week. Not only will it offer a nice long break from your studies, but it will also help to strengthen and oxygenate your muscles.
Strength training (which involves lifting weights) will help to strengthen your muscles, which in turn will help to improve your posture. This will definitely help in your fight against a stiff neck and an aching upper back!
Aerobic exercise (involving the use of oxygen/air, such as swimming, running, walking and cycling) also strengthens your muscles, although not as much as strength training, and will also improve your posture. However, the biggest benefit of performing aerobic exercises during the exam period is that it not only helps to reduce stress, but is also proven to help improve mental function. This will leave not only your body feeling great, but your mind too, thereby getting you study-ready!
Try a programme in which you perform strength training the one day and aerobic training the next! Reap the rewards from both types of training, which will also prevent you from getting bored by performing the same exercises day after day.
Best of luck with your pain-free studies!
By: Courtney Dreyer (BSportScience)