Your chair is trying to kill you.
In a survey of 222,000 Australians published this year, people who sat more than 11 hours a day had a 40 percent greater risk of dying within the next three years compared to those who parked their butts for fewer than four hours daily. And even if you exercise regularly, the chair will still try to sabotage you—rounding your shoulders forward, collapsing your chest, tightening your hips, and turning the natural "s" shape of your back into an ugly, painful "c."
"First, the pelvis starts to tilt under, into what's called a posterior tilt," says Aaron Brooks, a biomechanics expert and owner of Perfect Postures in Auburndale, MA. (Search: How to create an ergonomic workspace) "When that happens, the low back loses its curvature, flattening out. The thoracic [upper] spine starts to go into too much flexion, so the shoulders round forward, and the head moves forward. The shoulders also internally rotate, and then the hands and forearms pronate, or turn inward."
And when it comes to our endless conference calls, web browsing, and nightly TV-watching, practice makes imperfect: "Whatever you do, your body adapts to it, and gets comfortable being in that position," says Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, MA. "By sitting all the time, muscles in the front of the body get tight and locked up, and muscles in the back get weak."
"Even if you work out really hard for an hour or two every day, you still have to look at the rest of your day," Frisch says. That is, an hour of vigorous movement doesn't counter 7 to 10 on your butt. "You have to get up and move around."
It's time to fight back—and you don't even have to leave the office. Hop out of your chair every 20 minutes to clear your mind and start healing your posture with these simple, inconspicuous stretches that use a tool you never knew was there: your doorframe.
Step Through to Stretch Your Chest
Start with a simple chest stretch, says Frisch. Stand on the threshold of the door, and place your right forearm inside the door on the right side of the jamb, with your palm against the jamb at about shoulder height. In this position, twist your chest slightly through the door to stretch your chest—alternately, you can take a step forward with your right foot, keeping your left foot in the threshold.
To change the stretch slightly, try twisting your head to the left, says Brooks. And add strength and stretch for tired forearms by bending your wrist backward off the jamb so your palm faces the ceiling, suggests Chrissy Carter, a yoga teacher and trainer at YogaWorks in New York. (Download our free 20-minute yoga workout!)
Carter also recommends a double-armed version of this stretch, a move that mimics using a yoga rope wall. To do it, place both forearms in the position described above at the same time. From here, lean forward through the doorframe. "It's almost like the Titanic position," she says.
Too easy? Walk your feet behind you as you lean forward to increase the intensity of the double-armed stretch.
Stand Against a Corner to Fix Your Thoracic Spine
Only got a second? Open your chest some more and encourage proper thoracic spine position with the lightning-fast "No Money" drill from Eric Cressey, C.S.C.S., of Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.
(Video: Sculpt a beautiful back)
Start by standing against the corner of the doorframe so that the edge of the jamb bisects your body. Stand tall and place your hands cupped in front of your belly button, elbows at your sides. Without changing the bend in your elbows, pinch your shoulder blades together until your hands point out to either side. Return to the start position and repeat.
Throw Your Hands in the Air
If you're working through a tough problem or just slogging through a Tuesday afternoon, get the blood flowing with your arms overhead in this head-clearing stretch from Frisch.
Cross your forearms overhead and rest them inside the top of the frame as you stand in the threshold. In this position, lean forward, much as you did in Carter's two-armed "Titanic" stretch. For a deeper stretch, walk your feet back while continuing to lean forward.