By now you’ve probably heard the many negative health side effects of sitting too much. “Sitting all day long can lead to joint pain, poor posture, and the pain that comes with that, [as well as] more serious health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle, like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes,” says Caitlin Hoff, health and safety investigator for ConsumerSafety.org. But if you’re one of the millions of people in the workforce who sit behind a desk for the majority of your day, it can be hard to find ways to stay healthy during the day. We talked to experts to learn some easy habits that can help you stay healthy and fit behind your desk.
Maintain proper posture.
When you sit in the same chair all day, it’s no surprise you may slack on posture. But, experts agree that good posture is one of the key ways to reduce the physical stress placed on muscles and joints, as well as fatigue. Maintaining good posture starts with your chair. It should be the proper height for your body and the seating surface should be just below the bottom of your knees, according to Raj Gupta, D.C., chiropractor, founder of Soul Focus Wellness Center, and author of The Wellness Center Solution.
“When sitting, make sure your thighs are parallel to the floor and the armrests are just slightly below your elbows (measure this by sitting in the chair and dropping your arms to your sides). Keyboard height should be one to two inches below your elbows so that your hands while typing, are in a neutral position,” he says. Additionally, although it’s a hard habit to break, try not to cross your legs—instead keep both feet flat on the floor in front of you.
Commit to drinking more water.
According to experts, the average desk-dwelling employee is deficient in one thing: proper hydration. “Everyone knows the long list of benefits [that come] from increased water consumption, but many forget to drink water often enough,” says Mike Clancy, C.S.C.S., fitness and nutrition expert.
To fix this, you need increased awareness and a little structure. “To become more aware, purchase a clear water bottle that holds at least a liter and leave it near your computer screen,” he says. “Commit to drinking the entire bottle three times a day: once before 10 a.m., once after lunch (2 p.m. max), and once before you leave the office (7 p.m. max).” Another benefit of increased H2O at work is that it will naturally encourage you to get up and move more since you’ll be taking more trips to the bathroom. Win-win!
Update your office to meet your health goals.
There is no shortage of health-conscious products, specifically those that are designed for the office, currently available to consumers. Consider replacing your basic sit-down desk with a standing desk (or, better yet, a treadmill desk). Or replace your office chair with a stability ball. “Both options activate more muscles to use and promote health,” says Hoff.
Other options that she recommends, include ergonomic products like office chairs, keyboards, or computer mice that help to alleviate strain in the body while sitting or working for long periods of time.
Take a break from the screen every 20 minutes.
If you’re someone who experiences headaches or blurred vision after staring at your computer screen for too long, your eyes are craving a serious break. Dena Nader, M.D., regional medical director for MedExpress, recommends the 20-20-20 rule: taking a break every 20 minutes by looking at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds; “This helps your eyes relax after looking at a digital screen or reading for a long period of time,” she says.
Also, take note of your lighting. “If your computer screen is much brighter than your surroundings, your eyes have to work harder,” Dr. Nader adds. “Try brightening the lighting around you or increasing the contrast on your computer screen.” Lastly, keep your distance. She recommends positioning your computer screen about an arm’s length away from you to help your eyes focus more easily.
Fit in mini workouts.
Realistically, there aren’t too many exercise moves you can do during the work day, but that’s not to say that there are none! Dr. Gupta recommends a variety of moves from calf raises and glute squeezes, to wall sits and even abdominal crunches.
For calf raises, begin the exercise standing, facing your desk with your palms flat on the surface. “Standing straight up, with your feet pointing straight ahead of you, lift your heels so that you end up on the tips of your toes and hold for ten seconds, and [then] repeat,” he says. “This is a great exercise to strengthen calf muscles.”
To work your glutes, squeeze them together as tight as possible and hold for ten seconds. “This exercise will not only give you a tighter and leaner look, but it will help to prevent abnormal hip and pelvis rotation, [which is] common with sitting for extended periods of time,” adds Dr. Gupta.
Stretch and move at your desk.
An eight-hour workday with little movement can be hard on the body and mind, so Dr. Nader recommends setting aside just a few minutes every hour for some light body exercises and stretches. “Even minimal stretches and exercises that you can do in a small space, like a cubicle or office, including knee hugs, squats, shoulder shrugs, and arm circles, can help improve blood and nutrient supply to muscles and tissues to help prevent fatigue and discomfort,” she says.
Pack your lunch.
When you’re starving and rushed to finish up an assignment or make it to a meeting on time, you’re more likely to settle for an easier, less healthy lunch. This is where meal prepping and planning in advance really comes in handy. Additionally, try not to eat lunch alone at your desk, rather find a conference room and eat lunch with a co-worker. “Studies have shown that you are more likely to stick to your healthy eating goals and less likely to opt for indulgences when you eat with someone,” says Clancy. “For a bonus, sit with someone or a group of people [whom] you feel have good nutritional habits.”