How to Sit at a Desk All Day and Still be Healthy
Americans spend nearly eight hours a day sitting (and another
four hours watching TV and playing computer games) according
to a Harris poll conducted by the America On the Move Foundation.
Now consider your own day. How many hours per day do you spend
sitting at a desk, either in your office or at home?
Sitting at a desk for long hours can increase your
risk of gaining weight or suffering from back pain,
muscle tension and more, but the tips below can help
you stay healthy.
Chances are it's a pretty substantial amount of time. Between
work and the endless number of things people now use computers
for, you may easily be spending more time at your desk than
anywhere else, which is why learning how to sit at a desk
and still be healthy is so important.
The Downfalls of Sitting Too Much
In general, sitting (whether at a desk, in the car or elsewhere)
for too long is not a health-promoting thing to do. For one
thing, it can cause you to gain weight. A study in the International
Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that
those who had high daily levels of sitting (7.4 hours or more)
were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese than
those who reported low daily sitting levels (less than 4.7
hours a day).
A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine even
found that the longer a man sits at a desk at work, the greater
his chances are of being overweight.
Sitting at a desk all day also puts you at risk of back pain,
particularly if you sit with poor
posture, leg cramps, tense muscles and, of course, boredom.
Healthy Tips for Sitting at Your Desk
Many of us don't have a choice and must work at a desk, at
least for a portion of our day. During this time, use the
following tips to keep your mind and body at their best.
Keep your body in a neutral position. This means
that your joints are naturally aligned, reducing your
risk of stress and strain on the muscles, tendons, and
skeletal system and developing a musculoskeletal disorder
(MSD), according to the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA). To achieve a neutral body position:
Adjust your chair so your thighs are parallel with
Choose a chair that supports your back, including
the curve in your lower back (if not, place a rolled
up towel or pillow behind your lower back for support).
Your hands, wrists and forearms should be in-line
and roughly parallel to the floor.
Your head should be in-line with the torso and at
a level, balanced position (or just slightly forward).
Your elbows should be close to your body, bent at
a 90- to 120-degree angle.
Your shoulders should be relaxed and upper arms
hanging naturally next to your body.
Your feet should be flat on the floor or supported
by a footrest.
Your chair should be well-padded.
Move around often. Your body can only tolerate
being in one position for about 20 minutes before it starts
to feel uncomfortable, according to the Mayo Clinic. About
every 15 minutes, stand, stretch, walk around or change
your position for at least 30 seconds.
Reduce repetitive movements. Movements that you
repeat over and over (such as answering the phone or reaching
for a book) can lead to strains and stress. Reduce unnecessary
movements as much as possible by keeping items you use
often within arm's reach and using tools, such as a phone
headset, to reduce repetitive movements. You should also
alternate the hand you use to operate your computer's
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Keep your computer monitor in a healthy position.
This means directly in front of you, but at least 20 inches
away. The top of the screen should be at or below your
eye level, and it should be perpendicular to the window
(to reduce glare), according to OSHA.
Look away from your computer screen often. Focusing
on a computer screen for too long can lead to dry eyes
and eye fatigue. Be sure to change your focus often, looking
at a point in the distance, and blink regularly to keep
your eyes moist.
Use a document holder. It should be at the same
height and distance as your computer monitor (holders
mounted to the monitor are ideal).
Keep your keyboard and other office accessories clean.
phones and other office equipment are breeding grounds
for germs. Desks themselves can even harbor more
bacteria than a toilet seat! Keep them clean using
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Declutter your desk. About 40 percent of U.S.
office workers say they are "infuriated"
by too much clutter on their desks. Save yourself
this mental strife by taking a few minutes each day to
go through papers. Throw away those you don't need and
file those you do.
Don't keep junk food at your desk. The temptation
is simply too high to eat the junk, and subsequently feel
sluggish, tired or guilty. Instead, keep a supply of healthy
snacks nearby to satisfy your hunger in a smart way. Great
snack ideas include cut-up vegetables, a few nuts, fresh
fruit, a hard-boiled egg, etc.
your desk your own. While keeping away
from too much clutter is good, adding a few items that
mean something to you will make your desk more enjoyable
to work at. Some items to consider include a few pictures
of family or friends, a plant, inspirational posters or
paintings for the wall, and any other mementos that make
you feel good.
are the Top Injuries in a Typical Office (and How Can You
Surprising 9 Jobs With the Highest Germ Exposure -- and What
You Can do About It
Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. 2003 Nov;27(11):1340-6.
Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2005 Aug;29(2): 91-97.
Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration
on the Move
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