The modern office is designed around sitting, and for office workers, that most likely includes sitting in front of a computer for most of the day. But while you’re sitting there trying to be as productive as possible, it’s important to remember the impact that this type of all-day computer use has on your physical health as well as your productivity, and even mental health.
The first thing to keep in mind is that your body wasn’t designed to be sedentary. It actually thrives on perpetual movement. However, the average American office worker can sit for up to 15 hours a day, when you factor in both work and leisure time.
In contrast, a healthy amount of sitting is about 3 hours a day.
There are more than 20 different chronic diseases and conditions associated with excessive sitting, and on top of that, staring at a computer screen while you’re sitting can also adversely affect your eyes, and your neck and spine.
This probably isn’t new news, as the whole “sitting disease” was a hot topic a couple of years ago. And if you have a desk job that requires you to get your work done on your computer, what choice do you really have anyway?
The good news here is that there are small but impactful things you can do throughout the day to combat the negative effects. So here are some healthy habits for computer users that can help fight against the perils of the computer desk.
Monitor Your Monitor
The top of your computer screen should be level with your eyes. Anything else, and you’re going to be bending your head up or down at an unnatural angle, which puts strain on your neck and spine.
For the sake of your eyes and avoiding eyestrain, position your screen about 20-26” away from you.
Consider Your Posture
If you have to sit for the majority of your day, at least make sure you aren’t hunched over.
We naturally get drawn towards the computer screen, and the result of craning forward like this is an imbalance in the neck and spine.
So what is good posture at your desk? Back straight, feel on the floor and no slouching. If you need to, adjust your seat so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are equal to or slightly lower than your hips.
If you have this option, replacing your traditional desk chair with a stability ball is another great spine-saver. When sitting on the ball versus a regular chair, you are forced to engage your core in order to sit straight. Over time this builds up your abdominals and improves your posture.
As for that other device that command much of our attention these days, stop looking down!
There’s actually a term for the neck and back problems now associated with hunching over a smartphone – Text Neck. A recent study revealed that bending your head to look down at your mobile device can put up to 60 pounds of pressure on your neck.
Just be aware of your body positioning, especially when you’re on your mobile device. Always try to keep your head up, spine straight and your feet on the floor.
One way to check yourself is to do chin retractions (give yourself a double chin) so that you keep your neck and spine lined up underneath your head.
This will mean something different for everyone, but the action item is the same – move!
Whether that means taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away from the building, pacing around the conference room while you are on a call, going for a walk during your scheduled breaks or lunch hour, or doing some light stretching (1-2 mins) at your desk about every 30 minutes, it offers a much-needed break for your body. The more of this that you can do, the better but if your job doesn’t allow for this type of flexibility at least look for the minimum amount you can do.
Something to consider is that included among the risks of remaining sedentary are loss of focus, higher stress levels and lower productivity. So if you’re so stressed out at work that you don’t think you have 5 minutes to spare for a walk around the building, think again. Because doing so can actually help with your mental alertness, and maybe even spark some new ideas or help you solve a problem.
One nice thing about modern technology is that there are tons of great fitness apps and wearables out there that can help you track how often you actually do get up and move around. If you find that you just can’t break out of the sedentary habits, try setting an alarm to go off every 30 minutes as a reminder to at least stand up and stretch it out.
Oh – and speaking of moving…don’t forget to blink! When you work on a computer for long periods of time, you blink a lot less than you normally would. Making a point to blink more often will stop you from experiencing dry, irritated eyes.
Take a Stand
Office furniture has come a long way, so if you have the flexibility and the desire, there are plenty of stand-up desks, sit/stand combo workstations and even treadmill desks on the market.
But if ditching your sit-down desk is unrealistic, another option is to simply stand up.
With a little creativity, you can always raise up your computer (use a box, a shelf or a stool), and just remove your chair. Experts do recommend starting slowly – no more than 10 minutes per hour of standing at first. You can then gradually increase the time until it’s more comfortable to stand than to sit.
If you want to stand more but aren’t quite ready to be the sole standing employee at your office, try at least taking phone calls standing up. The double positive of this is that you come across as more enthusiastic and engaged when you speak while standing versus sitting down.
You can also stand – or even walk around – during meetings in the conference room, as long as it doesn’t prove too much of a distraction for others.
We get so hyper-focused during the work day, that the minutes and then the hours speed by. Before you know it, you’ve been sitting in the same hunched-over position for several hours. Then when you do get up, your back and neck are sore, and you think to yourself, “I really need to get up more during the day.”
But if you remain mindful and aware, and as a result you make a point to adjust your posture, to take frequent breaks to walk around and/or stretch, or to stand more, then you can change that from an after-thought to a proactive action. If it’s easier to use an alarm or an app to do it, then go for it. Whatever it takes to break out of the trap of excessive sitting is going to be beneficial.
Integrating these small things into your workday can add up to big gains in your mobility, your overall health and even your productivity.