By Simon Swords, Founder, Staff Squared
It’s not difficult to find a study or statistic to show that sitting is bad for you. It’s linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a whole host of other medical problems and overall shorter lifespans.
Did you know that you can’t counteract the effects of sitting by visiting the gym at the end of the day? Though being active reduces health risks, it doesn’t completely remove the damage that sitting can cause.
An increasing number of companies are taking a proactive approach, providing alternatives to the standard office desk setup. Standing desks, and even treadmill desks, are becoming more commonplace.
In some cases, alternatives aren’t available. You might also decide that a standing desk isn’t quite right for you. If you’ve got to sit, or if you simply want to, how exactly should you be sitting?
Don’t we all sit properly?
We don’t. In fact, sitting is a bit of an art.
Some people aren’t even capable of sitting properly, despite considering themselves to be a healthy and able individual.
Your body might not be ready for proper posture. It needs strong support muscles. To improve your posture, work on improving your core with squats, planks and visits to the gym.
How should I sit at my desk?
If you work with computers, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Go through the following checklist, and see where you’re letting yourself down.
- Your eyes should be level with the top of your computer monitor. This is easier with desktop PCs, but a struggle with laptops where the keyboard and screen are fixed close together.
- Your shoulders should be relaxed and low, not high and hunched up. You should feel like you’re not lifting your shoulders.
- Your lower arms should be parallel to the floor. They should rest on a support, rather than being held up.
- You shouldn’t be reaching too far for your keyboard and mouse. You should be able to control them easily with arms bent at the elbow.
- Your feet should be flat on the floor. Just putting your toes on the floor isn’t enough!
- Your upper back should be straight. Your lower back has a natural curve that should be supported by your chair.
- You shouldn’t slouch in your chair. Your hips should be as close to the back of the chair as possible.
- Your upper legs should be at a 90° angle from your body. If you’re short, this may mean that you need a footrest. If you’re particularly tall, you’ll need a higher chair (and may also require a higher desk).
- You should be sitting up straight and your screen should be a full arm’s length away from you.
- You shouldn’t be leaning to one side. It can be tempting to rest on one arm, but this causes your spine to curve.
But the pain’s in my arm, not my back!
Poor posture can affect almost every part of your body. It’s common to get pains in the elbow or wrist joints as a result of not sitting properly.
Poor posture can lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI). Hunched shoulders might cause neck pain and even headaches.
Do I need to stay completely still?
It’s actually recommended that you change position at least every 30 minutes. Unfortunately, shifting and shuffling usually leads to a slumped and uncomfortable posture. Unless you’re working hard to maintain a good sitting position, you’re likely to start to slouch down.
Instead of trying to find multiple good positions to sit in, take the opportunity to have a quick walk every 30 minutes. Stand up and go to get a drink, take a toilet break or just walk up and down the corridor, then sit back in your ‘good posture’ position. You should also consider walking or standing meetings, and aim to take your lunch break away from your desk, incorporating a brisk walk. You will find that the more you move the better you concentrate.
What about when I’m not using a computer?
The correct sitting position remains almost the same. Your arms should be resting parallel to the floor, your legs should be in the same position and your feet should still be flat. Your back should be against the chair, and your shoulders should be back (but not lifted or hunched).
An adjustable chair is beneficial. Raise and lower it, to find the right position. Always remember to stand and walk around regularly.
Can I relax when I get home?
Relax, by all means, but do so with good posture. You’ll want to look into the best ways to lie down, or to make use of the footstool by your sofa.
If you’re sitting, continue to think about your posture to avoid any aches or pains. Good posture isn’t just for the workplace. It’s also important for time in front of the TV, family meals at the dining table and even driving in your car.
For more advice on staying healthy at work, you can call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Welsh) to speak to a trained advisor. The Fit for Work Advice Hub also has lots of useful information on health at work topics.
If you’ve been off work for four weeks or more due to illness, you can ask your employer or GP to refer for you to Fit for Work. Visit fitforwork.org to find out more. Those in Scotland can visit fitforworkscotland.scot or call 0800 019 2211.