It’s been something people who have worked in offices have known for the last twenty, maybe thirty years—sitting at your desk for too long is not good for your eyes, your body, or your mind. However, by its very nature, an office job requires you to be at your desk, focusing on your work and getting things done. Is there a way to balance it out?
First off, what’s so bad about sitting? Nothing feels better after a long hike or any stretch of time when you’ve been on your feet. And that’s exactly it! Sitting means taking the work of supporting you off your feet, and the reverse is true. Sitting too long exhausts muscles that help you do just that. Because of the way our lives are structured now, typical office employees may be sitting up to fifteen hours a day. Fifteen out of twenty-four is astronomical when you do the math, even if you don’t like fractions.
There are the easy things to sort out about sitting so long and why it could negatively impact your health. Obviously, when you’re sitting, there are fewer calories being burned. A sedentary lifestyle is obviously linked to a lack of exercise, as you’re simply not moving very much. And that’s no matter how quickly you type. Researchers have also found reason to believe that being sedentary may influence insulin resistance, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Your muscles and spine aren’t too thrilled about it either. The seated position puts a lot of stress on your back muscles, your neck, and your spine, which is worsened if you slouch in your chair. Trying to find the most comfortable position in your office chair can often be at the expense of your spine alignment.
So what can you do about it, short of heading out to a farm to be an agricultural worker who’ll get plenty of movement? If you’re not keen on planting that squash patch as a full-time job, never fear. There are ways you can minimize the negative effects of uninterrupted sitting.
One of the easiest ways is to make sure you’re not sitting down for too long a stretch at a time. While you don’t need to take a full workout during the day, simply standing up from your desk and stretching every half hour does wonders for your body. A good move is to stand up and stack your spine, then clasp your hands behind your back, keeping your arms straight. Holding this posture for ten to fifteen seconds will re-align the muscles around your shoulder blades and let your spine straighten properly. Other easy exercises that you can do without leaping around your office include neck circles, the old standby of touching your toes, and stretching your arms over your head as though holding a big beach ball while keeping your back straight.
If you have time for a little more, take a stroll around your office. It’s a good excuse to refill your water glass, which is also looking out for your health. If you have coworkers who are looking to improve their office health, suggest having walking meetings, or standing ones. A little bit of movement can do a lot.
Your workspace can be reconfigured with your body in mind as well. Consider a standing desk to let you spend more time on your feet, or even one that is convertible and can be raised or lowered. You can even set your computer on a box on your current desk to make up a little more space. There are even treadmill desks, if you think you have the coordination to walk while you type. If you will be sitting, choose a chair with thought to protecting your back. Seek out an ergonomic chair that is the proper height for you and will support your spine.
These sitting dangers exist outside of the office too, so just because you’ve punched out doesn’t mean you should just toss yourself onto the sofa. No one’s saying you can’t binge that perfect fantasy show, but make sure you stand up occasionally, maybe to go toss laundry into the washer if you need a reason. There’s also the option of enjoying your trash tv guilty pleasure of choice while on a treadmill or elliptical machine in your own home. Ten minutes of workout means one more episode. Come on: there are a lot of seasons of “The Office” to re-watch.