The Perils of sitting at a desk all day!


On sunny summer days our thoughts naturally turn to the great outdoors. Computer slaves – such as office workers, bank tellers or customer service advisers – who are lucky enough to be near a window (with a view other than concrete or a motorway flyover) gaze wistfully out at carefree children playing ball or adults strolling in the sunshine.

In this case, nature really does know best. Our bodies were built to keep moving but, instead, millions of us spend our days working at a desk (often in front of a computer) and then go home (via a train or car) for yet more sitting – this time in front of the TV or PlayStation.

We know, from numerous studies and expert testimonials that a sedentary lifestyle sharply increases the likelihood of developing the likes of heart disease and obesity. That’s because prolonged sitting is linked to problems with blood glucose control and in reduced activity of an enzyme that breaks down fats. Other potential nasties include cancer, dementia and such postural-related ills as stiff joints, muscle tension and, of course, back and neck pain.

You can make positive changes to your leisure lifestyle but it’s not so easy if your daily bread depends on sitting for eight hours behind a desk. Happily, a few simple tweaks can help minimise the impact of your work on your health and wellbeing:

  • Watch your posture and sort out your workstation to minimise slouching and strain:
    1. Adjust your chair so your thighs are parallel to the floor and place feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.
    2. Ensure your (well-padded) chair supports your back, placing a pillow or rolled-up towel behind your lower back for extra support.
    3. Keep hands, wrists and forearms parallel to the floor with elbows close to your body, bent at a 90- to 120-degree angle.
    4. Your head should be in line with your torso and in a level, balanced position. Relax shoulders and upper arms.
    5. Make sure that your computer monitor is at least 20cm away, directly in front of you with the top of the screen at or below eye level.
  • Keep moving. Get up every 30 minutes or so. Why not walk the talk and make phone calls or have meetings while on the move? Try to use stairs instead of lifts.
  • Reduce repetition. Endlessly repetitive movements, such as reaching for a file, mouse work or answering your phone can cause strain. Simple adjustments, using a headset or alternating your computer mouse hand, can work wonders.
  • Stretch regularly. Stretch your legs and back regularly to beat headaches and stiff neck muscles caused by prolonged sitting in one position. Wrist and ankle circles can help…. If you’ve got the space, marching on the sport and touching your toes gets the blood flowing, as can a brisk lunchtime walk or swim (if there’s sufficient time).
  • Organise your office. Take the time to arrange this so you’re forced to get up and move around (not just roll in your chair to the filing cabinet and back!) and also keep your desk free of clutter.
  • Work standing up? Specially designed ‘sit-stand’ desks that enable us to work comfortably standing up have become increasingly popular, as are treadmill desks where you walk while you work. Standing up has been recognised as beneficial since the 1950s when a study looked at the health of London bus conductors, who stood throughout their working day. According to the results, they had half the risk of developing heart disease as their more sedentary driver colleagues.
  • Look after the basics. Stay hydrated and eat a healthy lunch and regular (healthy) snacks to help keep tiredness, stress, poor posture and lack of concentration at bay.

If you need any help with back or neck pain or headaches, or would like to discuss any of the tips in this article, please click here to get in contact.


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