I started working in an office 5 years ago, and during the past two years I have started to suffer a few consequences of bad habits that can were formed while sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day.
The reality is that a large amount of people work office jobs these days, and a lot of them do not correlate their type of work with their health condition. It is hard to change the way society works and avoid working office jobs altogether, as we often don’t have that choice. However, we do have the choice of making a few adjustment at work that will allow us to prevent illnesses and health issues caused by sitting at your job for long hours each day.
In my case, I exercise very regularity, and always have made a decent effort to eat healthy. However the past two years a few health issues have started to manifest, and it took some digging to find out the root causes. I started to develop a lot of gastrointestinal problems, and inability to breathe properly. I had to make a conscious effort to intake enough oxygen, as I often felt as if I was choking.
I also noticed that I started to hunch over when I walked and even after doing yoga I had a hard time standing straight without effort. My spine started to feel weak, and I experienced a lot of back pain.
When I visited a chiropractor, I discovered that a bad posture when sitting at my desk, plus not breathing properly had compressed some vertebrae in my spine, and had shifted my stomach in a way that impeded proper emptying into the small intestine. A series of chiropractic sessions and dietary adjustment made a lot of improvement, and now I make a conscious effort to breathe deeply throughout the day and to have a correct posture while sitting at my desk, so that the problem does not come back.
A very well researched article by Dr. Mercola discusses part of the controversy about the negative effects of sitting for prolonged hours and whether or not standing at your desk is better that sitting. The article also mentions several studies that point at a variety of negative health effects that can result from sitting more than 7 hours a day.
I won’t discuss the details of those studies, but I will share with you the most important piece of information.
The bottom line as the article suggests is that the overall lack of movement might be the most detrimental issue for health, whether it is from standing or sitting; that said, it is important to mention that when you stand at your desk you are likely to get a lot more movement that when sitting, and I can attest to that because I tried standing at my desk for a while, and I did naturally move a lot more; I took some steps to reach things, I moved from leg to leg, and I changed my posture several times while standing, which increases the amount of overall movement in a day. I also felt more alert and less tired during the day. Standing is also a weight bearing posture which is beneficial for musculature and bone density.
Nevertheless, while standing might have less disadvantages that sitting, I agree with Dr. James Levine author of the book Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It in that the emphasis should be on increasing movement of the body throughout the day rather than on simply switching from sitting to standing.
That said, if you decide to try standing at your desk I strongly recommend that you position your screen, and keyboard at the right level to avoid developing issues, as a bad standing posture can be as harming as a sitting posture.
As someone who works a full time office job, but who is also committed to improve my health and prevent future health issues, for the past year I have tried several strategies in order to reduce sitting time, and more importantly to increase the amount of movement of my body on any given day at the office, which has also helped me in my weight loss efforts.
Today I want to share with you some of the strategies I have implemented, and that have made a big difference in improving and relieving neck and back pain, indigestion, muscle soreness, and general energy levels.
1. Change positions several times throughout the day. For this, I Set a timer on my phone or computer to go off every 25 minutes, because it is very easy to get carried away with work, and before you know it 2 hours have gone by.
Dr. Mercola recommends to not sit for more than 20 minutes at a time. This might be a big compromise for a lot of people, depending on where you work. If you are lucky and have your own private office like me, this will be feasible if you are determined. I change positions every 25 minutes most of the time, and move for 2 minutes every time.
If you share office space or have a time of job where it is impossible to stand every 20 minutes, don’t worry! The point is to increase movement in general, so you will still benefit from changing positions in longer intervals.
How changing positions looks like? When your alarm goes off, stand up, walk around your own office, walk to the printer, walk to the water dispenser, walk around the hallway, do stretches, squats, walk in place, and roll your wrists, your ankles, do some standing yoga poses, anything that moves your body will benefit you.
If you are not able to stand up and move around, you can practice extending your legs while seated, do the rolling of the wrists, ankles, stretch your neck, etc.
You can also try sitting on an exercise ball and switch between that and your regular chair, like I do.
Trust me, I understand this is challenging in today’s world, but if you are serious about your health and understand that you are your first priority, you will make it happen!
2. Take deep breaths throughout the day. Breathe into your diaphragm, expand your chest, and ribcage to ensure adequate oxygen intake. This can also help you improve your posture, because it is hard to breathe deeply when you are slouching at your chair. Breathing deeply will also force you to keep your back straight.
3. Take a walk during your lunch break and/or coffee breaks. Your breaks are the best opportunity to get more movement in. Make a conscious effort to go out for a walk instead of staying in your office to read news or sitting in the lunch room. This is also extremely beneficial to give your brain a break, sometimes we come back with a much clearer mind and new ideas on how to solve problems.
Even if you walk only 20 minutes a day every day you work, and you work about 20 days a week like most people, you will put in 400 minutes of walking every month! That is 6.6 hours! That your body will thank you for.
Don’t underestimate the power of walking. It is a great weight-bearing exercise that the body was built to do!
4. Mindful Eating
Usually, People who work office jobs, myself included, have much more opportunities to eat throughout the day, than say, constructions workers, and yet us office workers move a lot less and therefore require less energy. You see the problem?
Food is comforting when we are stressed out, and even entertaining when we are bored, but eating under those circumstances can potentially lead us towards making bad eating choices or eating more than needed.
We must be aware of our emotional state before reaching for a snack. It takes awareness of your body to know how you feel and understanding your choices. However, as a rule of thumb it is better not to eat when you are under stress. Take a few minutes to calm down and ask your body: what will really nourish me right now? Sometimes a few deep breaths or a walk are much more relieving in the long term than food.
Recognizing when we are bored is important to avoid eating out of boredom. This happened to me a lot, when work started to be a bit daunting, I used to go to the nearest bakery as a way of having some distraction, and I would buy a pastry even though I wasn’t really craving it. Eventually, I noticed some weight gain after a few trips to the bakery!
Now I recognize when I am bored, or tired and I pay attention to my choices. I try to read an article instead or just go for the walk, pass by the bakery but don’t stop by. Usually after a walk I will have a better idea whether I am hungry or not.
Bottom line: Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored, stressed or tired.
5. Proper Posture. Whether you sit or stand at your desk, ensuring that you have the correct posture will prevent a lot of pain and discomfort. There are several resources on the internet that you can use as a guide.
Some suggestions to always keep in mind are: Avoid slouching, sitting cross legged, cradling the phone, and shrugging your shoulders.
Remember that when it comes to avoiding health problems from working at a desk, the key is to improve posture, and increase movement throughout the day.