How To Survive Sitting At A Desk All Day
If you work a desk job than you probably spend more sitting at that desk than anywhere else in your life.
Sitting at that desk may pay the bills... but your body is picking up the tab.
Your body gets used to positions you spend the most time in. Sitting a lot means they adapt to that position. Your muscles and other structures will actually change their tone and length as they think,
"We spend the most time in this position, this must be the new normal".
Not great. That's where bad posture, sore necks, tight hips and lower back pain kick in.
Your body gets really good at sitting, but it then loses ability to stand, walk, climb, run and jump... all things it should be able to do.
This article (aptly named 'How Desk Jobs Kill People') goes over some pretty frightening studies around the correlation between sitting and heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Correlation doesn't always equal causation, in this case though, it may.
What Can You Do To Counteract Sitting All Day?
Alright, you already knew sitting all day isn't great. It's your job and there's not much you can do about it.
Although, being a personal trainer, I'm on my feet a lot I also find I'm sitting down more and more these days producing content like this article, editing vids, creating social media posts...
I've got a few tricks up my sleeve which I'd like to share to survive sitting at a desk.
Own Your Setup
First things first, you're going to be sitting a lot. Let's accept that. So, you have to create your desk setup to be as ergonomic as possible.
That means chair height, desk height and screen height all optimised. If you are looking down with your shoulders hunched all day you can just imagine what that's going to do to your posture over time. Neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain... pretty much all pain can come from a bad setup position.
Pick a good chair.
You're going to spend a bunch of time in this chair, so make sure it's not going to destroy your spine.
This doesn't mean you have to find the most expensive ergonomic chair available. You only need something with adjustable height and armrests, good lower back support and a comfy cushion.
Set up your workspace.
Ask someone to take a picture of you when you're in the flow of working on something. What does your posture look like? Chances are it's a wreck.
You want your monitor to be just below eye level and desk/keyboard to be at elbow height when you're seated. This will allow you to stay upright and avoid any nasty problems in the future.
There are websites on the web (like this one) which can help you find the correct heights for your chair, keyboard and monitor. Use things like books to prop up your monitor to a proper height and use a wireless keyboard if you're working from your laptop
Another thing you can do is get yourself a standing desk. People have a lot to say about them at the moment because of the whole 'sitting is worse than smoking' internet hype. You don't need one. It's just an option.
Get Moving (please)
Remember how the body will adapt to the positions it's in the most? Don't let it! Change positions as often as possible.
This is the most important thing - Studies suggest for your spinal health you must consistently alter your work environment. Stand up, walk around, twist, stretch... do whatever you like. Just DON'T sit in the exact same position for 8+ hours straight.
So get up and get moving.
The Pomodoro technique.
Have you heard of the pomodoro technique? If I have some set tasks to do, I'm all about the pomodoro. I've got one ticking right now.
It's simply a technique to promote focus and flow. But it's also useful to add movement into the day.
It looks a little something like this:
Decide on the task to be done.
Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
Work on the task with complete focus until the timer rings.
When the timer finishes, take a short break (5 minutes), then repeat
After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes).
In reality, I can get a lot of work done with this method. The time is fairly short so it allows full focus without getting bored. Then, during the breaks I tend to get up, walk around, go to the toilet, fill up my water bottle and stretch my upper back and hips. By that time I'm ready to go again.
Habit based movement.
Another thing you can do is use events in the workplace as triggers to move. Some examples of this include:
During toilet breaks take a longer route to get there.
Go for a walk after eating something. Sue brings over a bite of homemade carrot cake? Eat it and get some fresh air.
Someone calls you? Take the call outside and walk.
You just finalised a big chunk of work. Get up and stretch your arms and back as a reward.
Need some water? Get up and stretch your legs and back, then go and fill up your bottle.
This type of movement can refresh you physically and mentally, giving you the energy to nail another stint of work.
Tricks of the trade.
I tend to drink a lot of water every day. Non-intentionally, it forces me to get up out of my chair and go to the toilet. By increasing your water intake you may need to go to the toilet a few more times a day too... meaning movement!. Plus, you're drinking more water which is one of the healthiest things you can do. Nailing two birds with one stone.
Go out to get food. Never order delivery to your desk.
Move around when on phone calls. Simple. Unless you need to be at your desk for it, stand up on a call. If you want, walk outside. Walk around the block. Even just stand outside and get some sunlight.
Every bit counts.
The thing about movement is that it all adds up. 5-minute movement breaks here and a couple little walks around the block spread throughout the day can end up to 1-hour plus of exercise daily.
The big thing to avoid is becoming an 'active-sedentary' person. This is someone who exercises hard 3-4 times a week in the gym but the rest of the time does absolutely nothing, yet believes they are highly active, health and fit. What you do outside of the gym counts just as much as your workouts.
Stay Limber (channel your inner leopard)
Moving is awesome, but there are some specific stretches you can add to your arsenal to combat desk jobs.
The Spiderman is a hip saver.
The Couch Stretch can sort out any hip flexor tightness
Another hip flexor stretch with a bit of upper back movement
And a really, really good upper back stretch.
Any stretch you can do for the chest, upper back and hips are you're go-to saviours.
In terms of strength training, this post, 'How To Gain A Confident Posture' has some great examples of anti-sitting exercise routines.
Another thing many of my client's do and enjoy is yoga. I'm not the biggest yogi on the block but I can see the many benefits of it for people who sit a lot. It promotes movement through all joints in a controlled manner and can sort out your stress levels as a bonus.
Finally, self-massage is amazing for loosening up tight muscles and undoing the knots that form after prolonged sitting.
You can use a foam roller.
Or you can use a small ball (like this lacrosse ball)
But what you really need to do...
Think about your health as the amount of time you spend sitting versus the time you spend on your feet. Then every day, make the small choices that will help move you in the right direction. It all adds up, and it all matters.
All these things are discussed with clients in my 1-1 online coaching program. It's not a one-size-fits-all gym program. It's about taking control of your fitness in all aspects of your life!