It's a drastic statement, but it has caught much attention and popularity in recent years, as study after study has shown the drastically negative impact that sitting has on our overall health (read a few by clicking here or here). While simply sitting for less time may seem like the easy answer, unfortunately for a lot of us, sitting at a desk comprises a large portion of our work week.
In fact, we are willing to bet that you are sitting at a desk - whether your work station or at home - right now as you read this. If you are, freeze! Don't move! Take a moment to investigate your positioning right now, simple things like how far away from the computer you are, or where your mouse and keyboard are in relation to you. While sitting may not always be avoidable, we have five easy adjustments that you can make, to help reduce the negative impact your desk habits may be having on your health.
How many of our five key workplace habits do you think you are guilty of? Read on below to find out, and to see what our physiotherapists recommend to help alleviate these problems.
1. Distance from the monitor
Sitting too close to the monitor can have serious consequences on your vision, while sitting too far away often results in individuals leaning forward, which creates poor posture. This in turn can lead to increased pressure on the low back, tension in the shoulders, and a strained neck.
James Rowan's suggested fix:
Avoid poor postural mistakes or eye strain by ensuring that your monitor is set up at a proper distance. Your gaze should naturally fall within the top third of the screen, and the monitor should ideally be between 18-20 inches from your face. Adjusting your keyboard to an easily accessible position at this distance, or investing in a desk chair that enables a proper height, are two great options to help make this new position seem more natural.
2. Sitting too long
As we mentioned above, prolonged periods of sitting have a wide array of negative health effects. Interestingly, studies have found that many of the negative effects of sitting are irreversible, meaning that the damage done over long periods of sitting cannot simply be undone by a later change in habits. Complications such as disc herniation, hypertension, diabetes, and even cancer are drastically reduced when individuals make an effort to sit less and move more. In fact, the Conference Board of Canada predicts that if only 10% of Canadians were to make an effort to reduce their sitting hours, national health care costs would be reduced by 2.6 BILLION dollars!
Damien Wild's suggested fix:
While options like a sit-stand desk are fantastic alternatives to the traditional workplace, they are not always financially feasible. Instead, try incorporating some of these simple ideas into your everyday work routine:
- Take the stairs, not the elevator
- Stand up when on the phone
- If an email recipient is in your office, opt for walking over and verbally relaying your message
- Refill your water glass every hour
- After you eat lunch, take a 5 or 10 minute walk
- Set a timer for yourself, and try to incorporate some gentle stretching or exercises at your desk throughout the day
- Organize walks with coworkers, instead of seated meetings
You may get a few silly looks from your coworkers at first, but we are confident that by incorporating these simple activities into your routine, you will feel better, be more focused and productive, and may even inspire others to make healthier changes for themselves as well!
3. sitting angle
Studies have shown that the angle at which we sit has a drastic effect on the amount of pressure that we place on our intervertebral discs. As you can probably guess, this pressure is not a good thing, and over time can lead to disc herniation, chronic pain, and decreased range of motion.
Jim Bowie's suggested fix:
By simply adjusting the angle of your seated position, disc pressure can be reduced by up to 85%! As you can see in the image above, Nachemson et al. demonstrate that relative to standing, sitting at an angle of 110 degrees (leaning slightly backwards from the monitor) places only marginally more pressure on the spine, whereas leaning forwards into the screen can almost double the pressure our discs undergo. Ensure that your desk chair can facilitate these healthier postures, press your hips as far back into your chair as they can go, and be conscious of your shoulders slumping forward. It is important to note as well, that the old adage "sit up straight" is not necessarily true; as you can see from the image above, trying to hold yourself perfectly erect actually places more strain on the back. Instead, try to find a comfortable position that is lengthened but relaxed, and remember to incorporate movement at regular intervals.
4. Hip tilt
The majority of us tend to sit favouring one side over the other, without even realizing it. If you are unsure whether or not you are guilty of this, simply take note of how you typically sit at work. Do you find yourself leaning on one armrest more than the other? Do you lean your head onto the same hand regularly, or cross your legs with the same leg always on top? These habits indicate an imbalanced pelvis, which can cause movement and alignment problems, as well as back pain.
Damien Wild's suggested fix:
Since so many people are unaware of this lean, simply being more conscious of your seated position will drastically help alleviate the strain that the pelvic imbalance is creating. Avoid crossing your legs, and leaning forward onto your desk or armrest. Try to feel both sides of your buttocks and hips pressing equally into the chair, and if you are feeling tired or need to lean, try standing up and moving for a few minutes instead.
5. Mouse positioning
Improper positioning of the mouse can cause individuals to bend wrists, and lift or reach arms out for extended periods of time. This in turn places increased stress on the wrist and elbow joints, over time weakening these systems and creating pain and dysfunction.
James Rowan's suggested fix:
Make sure that your mouse is placed in the "Usual Zone" pictured above, within 25 cm of your seated position. The hand and forearm should maintain a straight line, and the upper arm should not have to extend or elevate to use the mouse. By keeping the mouse in the green zone displayed above, regular reaching motions are eliminated, strain on the elbow is reduced, and your body will thank you!