Sitting all day is bad for our health, we are increasingly told. Sedentary lifestyles can lead to muscle inactivity and weight gain, and even diabetes and heart disease. Did you know that the average office worker sits for around 10 hours each day?
Sitting puts increased stress on your spine, the discs in between the vertebrae, as well as the muscles and ligaments in the lumbar region. Bad posture and slouching exacerbates the problem which can lead to long-term health and mobility problems.
Sitting for long periods may be unavoidable at work, but with an awareness of what constitutes good posture and making it a daily priority to sit properly at your desk, you can do a great deal to limit the damage to your back. I spoke to the experts at Bansel Osteopathy for some tips to show you how.
1. Get the right chair
It won’t come as a surprise to hear that your office chair has a huge impact on your posture as you sit at the desk. Getting a suitable ergonomic chair is the single most important investment you (or your employer) can make into your everyday wellbeing.
Choose a chair that is well designed and comfortable to sit on. It should be height adjustable, with arm rests and good lumbar support.
2. Feet on the floor
Take a seat in your office chair and make sure the height, back and tilt position on your chair are adjusted for maximum support. Press your hips against the back of the chair, with your upper back straight and the natural curvature of your lower back nicely cushioned by the chair. Your knees should be just lower than your hips and your feet flat on the floor. If you’re short and your feet don’t reach the ground, you may need a footrest to support your legs. If you’re too tall, you may need a higher chair (and also perhaps a higher desk).
Try to avoid the temptation to cross your legs as this can cause you pelvic muscles to shorten over time and contribute to posture related problems.
3. Arms parallel
With your back straight against the chair, sit as close to your desk as you can so you can reach your keyboard and mouse easily. Position your keyboard 4-6 inches away from the edge of the desk so that you can rest your wrists on the table or on a wrist pad, with the mouse close by. Make sure the keyboard isn’t too far; you shouldn’t have to reach forward and away from the back of the chair as this can cause a build-up of tension in your upper and lower back muscles.
Your wrists and forearms must not tilt up or down; they should be parallel to the floor. To take away some of the strain from your shoulders and upper back, you can adjust the armrest so that your arms are lifted slightly at the shoulders; this will also prevent you from slouching.
4. Eyes straight ahead
Position your computer screen about an arm’s length away on the desk straight in front of you. If the screen is too low, your neck muscles are prone to overworking resulting in pain, so ensure that the centre of the screen is eye level.
This is much easier to achieve with desktop computers than laptops where the screen and keyboard are fixed close together. You could experiment by placing the laptop on a raised platform or using a laptop stand and an external keyboard.
5. Take regular breaks
Even with the most comfortable chair and the best possible ergonomic sitting position, it’s essential that you move around every ½ hour or so to give your muscles a chance to relax. Shifting position is not enough as this will invariably lead to slouching and slumping.
The best thing to do is to get up from your chair and walk around. Take a toilet break, put the kettle on or just walk up and down the corridor at least once an hour before you resume your ‘good posture’ position. Try to incorporate as many non-sitting activities into your working day as you can. Take a lunch break away from the desk, go for a walk outside, or even have standing or walking meetings.