If you have a desk job, here is what it is doing to your body

While the phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking’ may sound hyperbolic, there’s a core truth to it. A 2011 study found that each hour spent seated watching television cuts 22 minutes from your life expectancy, which is actually worse than the 11 minutes per cigarette that smokers trim off their average lifespan.

Nicole Bryant, physiotherapist at High Line Active, explains that the dangers of sitting are multifaceted. “You’re putting pressure on your spine through compression, so it’s impacting the musculoskeletal system. Sitting for long periods can weaken the glute and leg muscles as you aren’t using them,” she says. “Our digestion and cardiovascular systems aren’t designed for sitting. We’re designed to operate standing and moving.” On top of that, we know that the risk of experiencing both anxiety and depression is higher in people that sit more.

It’s not all bad news, though! If you’re concerned for your health, there are some simple preventative steps that you can take to mitigate the risk that comes from a sedentary work lifestyle.

Hit the right height

Once you’ve got the chair dialled in, you can move on to the rest of your space. The first thing you want to do is ensure that your hands are in the correct position for typing and accessing your mouse.

“Most people sit forward in the chair and creep over the keyboard,” Nicole warns. “A good cue is to make sure that you’re using the back of the seat.” When it comes to setting the height of your monitor, she recommends aligning the top third of the screen with your eye level.

Find the perfect chair

“Always start with making sure that your chair is fitted correctly,” Nicole says. That means ensuring you’ve got adequate back support, and that your hips and knees are resting at a right angle.

If you’re setting up a home office, it’s worth noting that a more expensive chair doesn’t necessarily mean a better one. What counts is finding a model that works for your body. Nicole suggests taking a friend along with you when you’re shopping to make sure that your posture is correct.

Three desk stretches to keep you moving

Try integrating these basic stretches into your working routine.
If you’re having persistent or localised pain, be sure to seek the advise of a medical professional.

  1. Pec Stretch 
    From seated or standing position, cast your hands behind your back to open up your chest then lift your head to the ceiling.
  2. Chin to Armpit Stretch
    From a seated position, place your right hand oveer the back of your head. Turn to look into your right armpit and use your hand to gently pull your head down. You should feel this stretch through the left side of your neck and upper back. Repeat on the other side.
  3. Seated Rotations
    While seated, use your left hand to hold onto the arm of your chair and twist to the right. Repeat five times, then alternate sides.

MAKE YOUR #ONECHANGE Set reminders in your phone or email to prompt you to stretch throughout the day.

Build movement into your day

One of the most effective ways of combatting the adverse health outcomes that come with sitting is to ensure that you’re moving throughout the day. “If you’re sitting at a desk it’s important to have regular rest pauses,” Nicole says. “Take your hands off the keyboard every hour and complete some stretches and mobility exercises.”

Make sure that you try and work incidental exercise into your day. Nicole suggests getting off public transport one stop early, heading to a colleague’s desk and having a conversation instead of sending an email, or scheduling a walking meeting. Any time spent moving adds up over the day.

Use your laptop strategically

When working on a laptop you’re unlikely to be able to maintain the ideal posture for an extended time, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to list your computer on Gumtree. “A laptop is fine to use for short periods,” Nicole says. “Any injury is about repetition and total time.”

If you’re regularly working away from your main desk, it’s worth investing in an external keyboard, mouse, and riser to get your station set at the right height. But if you’re working remote or on the road and are without equipment, focus on switching your body’s position regularly. Nicole recommends alternating between standing and sitting, or even lying on your stomach while using your laptop.

Consider a standing desk

Standing desks offer flexibility of movement that’s conducive to better health. “I usually tell my clients to try and stand for an hour and sit for an hour,” Nicole says. Still, if your workspace has a standing desk, be careful not to overdo it. Nicole has noticed an upturn in clients experiencing injuries in the knees and hips related to standing. In the beginning, she advises making sure that you’re switching position more often and choosing supportive footwear.

As far as calibrating the height your desk, Nicole notes that your keyboard should be sitting just below your hands if you’re standing with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. That way you won’t need to elevate your shoulders to reach your mouse and keyboard.