For office workers, the neck and waist are the areas most likely to have problems, so it is important to exercise in a way that helps to relieve such discomfort and damage, experts say.
"Swimming and kite flying are the most advisable exercises for people who work for a long time at a desk," says Qi Qiang, a senior orthopedist with Peking University Third Hospital.
The cervical spine is backward "C" shaped, with a complicated system of ligaments, tendons and muscles that are attached with nerves to support the head and its movement.
But if people sit and look down at the computer screen for several hours day after day, the muscles are not relaxed, the cervical spine tends to lose its lordotic shape, and sometimes even progresses to curve forward instead, Qi says.
Most importantly, when people sit, the waist is under more pressure than other parts of the body and the lumbar spine and muscles related would be damaged because of such long-term pressure, Qi says.
People will start to feel uncomfortable, such as having pain and numbness in the neck, waist and limbs as the spine and muscles around these areas get damaged. Any exercise that makes people look up is good, such as swimming, kite flying and playing badminton, Qi says.
Bones throughout the body start degenerating when people are in their 20s, and exercises can help slow down the progress, Qi adds.
Guo Xiaohui, an endocrinologist with Peking University First Hospital, warns that exercise cannot undo the damage that sitting for long hours at work can do, in the same way that people who smoke a lot can't undo the damage to their lungs by exercising.
"Life is in movement. It is important to move around as much as possible and not just to sit down during long office hours," Guo says.
"Even breaks for a brief walk around the office can help you stay healthy."
However, while doing exercises, it is important to know your limits and not strain oneself, especially if you have already had problems with your spine, notes Qi.
Qi says he has met lots of people who hurt themselves because they are not aware of their health condition and exercise beyond their capacity.
People with orthopedic problems, such as cervical spondylosis, a degenerative condition of the cervical spine, should exercise only strictly under direction from an orthopedist, Qi adds.
"Exercise is good, but only when people do it regularly and reasonably," Qi says.
"Otherwise, it can be harmful."