We've all heard it: “Sitting is the new smoking.” More and more studies show just how bad sitting at a desk all day is for your health. And that pretty much sucks considering how many of us work desk jobs.
So, sitting down all day is bad... it takes years off my life... yadda yadda yadda. What can I actually do about it?
When this research started circulating, a lot of people decided to start standing up while working. Problem solved. Or so they thought… (cue dramatic music)
Actually, there's an issue with that approach. It turns out standing up in one place all day long isn't great for your health either. Bummer.
It's much better to switch between sitting and standing throughout the day. Sadly, the kind of office furniture that makes that a simple task is obscenely expensive (we're talking thousands, here).
People also thought regular exercise outside of the office would make up for the negative effects of sitting all day. Again, nope. More research came along to rain on that particular parade.
So what can you actually do to lessen the damage done?
1. Make the most of your commute
If you drive to work, park farther away than you normally would in order to get a little walking in. If you take public transportation, stand up on the journey. It's an easy way to decrease how much time you spend sitting on your bum.
2. Take the stairs (two at a time)
Don't pass up any opportunity to be a bit more active, especially when choosing between the elevator or stairs. (Who am I kidding? Elevator every time.) Use the stairs and take them two at a time to exert yourself that little bit more.
3. Sit properly
I don't know about you, but I'm a sloucher. Sometimes, it gets to the point where I can practically rest my chin on the desk. It's only my arms, reaching toward the keyboard, that are holding me up. But that's bad. Don't be like me. Sit properly to reduce the negative impact.
It's all about right angles. First of all, make sure your chair is at the right height. When you've got it right, your feet should be flat on the floor and your knees and hips should be bent at a 90 degree angle.
Once you've got that covered, make sure your lower back is against the chair's backrest. This helps to keep your back straight. Finally, keep your screen at the right height. The top third should be above your eye level. This stops you from hunching forward.
4. Fidget more
I know. Your mother would be horrified, but it's for your health. Apparently, fidgeting can burn up to 350 calories a day. Not too shabby, eh? So, tap your feet, gesture when you talk -- even chewing gum counts! Individually, these little movements are negligible, but they soon add up.
5. Get up and move
Every hour, get up from your desk and move around for a few minutes. It doesn't have to be anything strenuous, just walking around is fine. You can even build it into your work. Instead of messaging or emailing colleagues, take a quick stroll to their desks. Two birds, one stone.
6. Drink more water
Drinking water is good for you, in and of itself. But here we're looking at an added bonus. If you drink more, you'll need to visit the *ahem* lavatories more often, getting you out of your chair and walking around.
7. Exercise at your desk
There are various exercises you can do (inconspicuously) without ever leaving your desk.
For example, raise one leg off the floor and straighten it underneath your desk. Hold it there for 10 seconds before lowering it almost to the floor. Hold it again. Repeat with the other leg. Do this a few times over. Say, 10 to 15 repetitions.
A similar exercise starts with stretching out both legs and then crossing them at the ankle. Now lift your legs up off the floor. Press down with the top leg and push up with the bottom leg. When your legs get tired, you can stop and repeat with the top and bottom legs switched.
Another idea is to lift one foot slightly off the floor and then draw imaginary circles with your toe. Draw 10 circles going clockwise and then another 10 counterclockwise. Repeat this with your other foot.
8. Start stretching
It's also a good idea to do some stretching, particularly for your neck and back. Here's a couple of simple ones you can do at work.
To stretch your neck, rest your ear on your shoulder and hold that position for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
To stretch your upper back and shoulders, straighten one arm and fold the elbow of that arm with the other hand. Pull the outstretched arm in toward your chest until you feel the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Another worry for people who sit at a desk is carpal tunnel syndrome -- and you can also do some stretching to avoid that. Stand in front of your desk and place your hands, palms down, flat on the desktop. Make sure your arms are straight and your fingers are pointing at your body. Then lower your body, leaning forward until you feel the stretch. Hold it for 15 to 30 seconds. Do this a couple of times a day, or whenever it feels necessary.
If carpal tunnel is something that affects you, then it's also a good idea to buy wrist rests for both your keyboard and mouse.