Family Health: Stand, stretch to stay healthy at your desk

If you sit all day at work, you may be feeling a little uncomfortable. It could be your stiff back, sore shoulders, or general aches and pains that many people get from poor posture in front of a computer.

Lately, though, office workers have a new reason to be uncomfortable. Research shows that people who sit all day have significantly higher risks for conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, and may even have shorter lifespans. That’s true even for people who get plenty of exercise when they’re not at work.

News about the health effects of sitting has inspired a host of tall desks that allow people to stand while they work. These desks are a good start, especially ones that let you go from sitting to standing throughout the day. Treadmill desks, which let you walk while you work, may add even more benefits.

Studies about how much these desks help are scare. But experts agree on this advice to lower the risks of prolonged sitting: Get up and move around. Taking frequent breaks – about every half-hour – is a good plan for anyone with a desk job. Set a timer on your smartphone or computer to remind you to stand up, stretch and walk around for a few minutes. Sitting too much at home also adds to your risks, so do some stretches or walk in place while you watch TV. Anytime you can replace sitting with being active, you move in a healthier direction.

Taking stretch breaks may also help ease your body aches, pains and injuries from sitting in a poor position at your computer. But you’ll get better results by improving your posture. Sitting correctly can help you avoid problems such as weak abdominal muscles, neck and back pain, bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, these tips can minimize pain and injuries:

  • Use a chair with adjustable armrests that position your elbows near your waist.
  • Sit with your back against the chair back.
  • Adjust the chair height so your thighs are horizontal and your feet are on the floor. If your chair is too high, try using a foot rest.
  • Use a wrist rest for your mouse arm and keep your wrists nearly straight.
  • Place your monitor about one arm’s length (20 to 26 inches) away, with the top of the screen at eye level. If you use a laptop, consider getting a separate monitor or keyboard so you can make these adjustments.
  • Sit with your ears, shoulders and hips in line.
  • Try to stay relaxed and avoid hunching your shoulders.

You can learn more techniques for staying healthy at work by visiting the AAOS website at orthoinfo.aaos.org.


Shawn Lake writes for Community Medical Center.

This article is also published in the Missoulian.