We know the importance of movement to our health. For many working adults, long periods of inactivity put stress and strain on the whole body. This is made worse by poor ergonomics. The result is lower energy and alertness.
The sedentary nature of many jobs can also contribute to more chronic health problems, including joint and posture problems, as well as contributing to weight gain and related conditions (Health Care Service Corp., 2014). We end up caught in a cycle, lacking the energy to counter the effects of sitting still at work.
The time has come to focus not just on incorporating an exercise routine, but also on evaluating what we can do to improve our health while we work.
Research is showing that simply standing is better for our health than prolonged sitting. An example is the CDC’s Take a Stand Project from 2011. As a result, the idea of standing desks is gaining ground. Options range from standing desk workstations to desks that electronically adjust from sitting to standing for those who can select their own office furniture or whose employers support flexibility with furniture.
With traditional desks, changes can be made to improve positioning of the body and computer to reduce strain. A few tips from the Mayo Clinic to incorporate:
» Your feet should rest comfortably on the floor with your knees and hips about level. Use a foot rest if your feet do not rest flat on the floor.
» The height of your keypad should allow you to type while keeping your elbow at a 90-degree angle.
» Your wrists should be in a neutral straight position, not bent up or down or sideways. A wrist rest minimizes stress on wrists. During typing breaks, rest the palms of your hands on the rest.
» Have key objects close to prevent excessive and awkward stretching. If something is out of reach, stand up for it.
» Center your body in front of your monitor and keyboard, head square over shoulders, shoulders over hips. Use a chair that provides lumbar support or place a pillow for support.
» Consider a stability ball chair to improve posture.
Consider contacting your Human Resource department to see if someone can do an ergonomic assessment of your work space.
Additionally, make the conscientious choices to build movement into the day. Some ideas from Blue Cross Blue Shield/Health Care Service Corporation:
» Take the stairs, not the elevator.
» Walk to a coworker’s desk when you need to communicate, instead of emailing or calling.
» When someone comes to your desk, stand up to talk. When they leave, stretch before you sit back down.
» When you need to meet with coworkers, suggest making it a standing or walking meeting.
» Make a list of all the tasks you do while sitting. See which ones you can do while standing up.
» Look for ways you can increase your walking during the day. Walk to a copy machine that is farther away. Instead of using a water bottle, fill a cup and return to the water cooler more often for refills.
» Walk briskly to and from your car. Park far away from entrances.
» Do stretches: shrug your shoulders, stretch your arms, stretch your neck muscles by dropping your chin and following it gently back and to the sides, do leg extensions.
» Set an alarm to remind yourself to stretch once an hour.
With some effort, steps can be taken to reduce the strain put on the body by a desk job. These changes provide health benefits in and of themselves and may also leave you feeling more energetic and able to enjoy activities outside of work, adding to both physical and mental health.
Amy Downey is the director of human resources at Region Ten Community Services Board.