Those of us who sit at a desk all day often wish we had a more active job. The dreaded desk slump leads to poor circulation, tight muscles, and low energy.
Numerous studies have equated long stretches of sitting with serious health problems including increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and back pain.
We all need to sit less and move more, so how can you get your work done and keep your body happy? Here’s how!
1. Ergonomic Checkup
Check to make sure your desk area is set up ergonomically. Some companies have ergonomics consultants available—it’s worth checking with HR to see if yours does. If not, there are simple things you can do.
- Your computer screen should be at eye level. If necessary, put your monitor on a pile of books or a box and adjust your chair.
- Turn your whole body, not just your head. If you use more than one monitor, move your entire body when you shift your attention; just swiveling your head from side to side puts too much stress on your neck muscles.
- Keep both feet flat on the floor as much as possible. If your chair doesn’t adjust and you have shorter legs, you may need to put a footstool under your desk to rest your legs on. Don’t cross your legs! While it may feel natural, it can knock your whole body out of alignment, and when done habitually over the years can actually contribute to arthritis and tight muscles in the crossover leg.
2. Get Up
Get up out of your chair every 30 minutes for at least a full minute. You might plan to read through some emails or place a call while standing. If you need to speak to a colleague in the office, take a walk to their desk instead of sending a DM. Kriota Willberg, an artist and massage therapist who works in graphic medicine and injury prevention in New York City, recommends an app called Anti RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) for Macs.
“[The app] alerts you with micro pauses to rest your eyes and work breaks to rest the rest of you,” Willberg notes, adding “it helps keep me on track when I’m deep into a project and not thinking about my own body.” There are other apps available, as well as plugins for browsers such as Chrome that will remind you to shift position or stand up.
3. Switch from Sitting to Standing
Switching from sitting to standing desk work every half hour is an excellent way to cut back on your sitting time. Standing desks are increasingly affordable. But you don’t want to make a sudden switch sitting all day to standing all day.
Standing in one place can be as hard on the body as sitting all day in one position; it will put stress on your spine, hips, and knees, and you may find your legs fatiguing quickly, and your ankles and feet swelling. The ideal standing desk can adjust from standing to sitting, which gives you the best of both worlds.
Regardless of if you are sitting or standing at your desk, it’s important to have regular movement or stretching breaks.
Andy Ashcraft, a video-game designer who works out of a home office in Los Angeles, believes stretching is the most important thing for the body when you’re logging long hours on the computer. “I love to do calf raises and ankle circles while I’m sitting,” Andy says. “I’ll close my eyes for about 15 seconds, do a few moves, and it re-energizes me.” Every 30 or 40 minutes he gets up to refill his water bottle or walk laps around the house. Here are some tips on how to move more:
- Every so often, inhale and shrug your shoulders up as high as you can, then exhale and let them drop. This helps both your muscles and your brain by drawing more oxygen in
- Take a walk to refill your water bottle or take a lap around the hallways
- Start a walking club at work and have regular meeting walks with colleagues
- Set a timer once an hour and do desk yoga poses
Whether you work sitting or at a standing desk, the most important thing to remember is that our bodies do best with a mixture of positions. Building activity and rest breaks into your day will make it easier for you to maintain good posture and better health in any setting. And whenever possible, skip the elevator and take the stairs!
T.J. Ford is currently pursuing a graduate degree in bioethics and narrative medicine. She studies, writes, and runs in her newly adopted hometown of New York City. Her goal is to find the best pizza in all five boroughs.