86% of American workers sit all day for their jobs. Between work and time at home, the average office employee spends up to 15 hours per day in a seated position.
The extended amount of time in a chair can lead to short-term health issues, including neck stiffness, back pain, weak legs, and poor circulation. Daily inactivity can also cause weight gain and all the health issues associated with it.
People who spend long periods seated can also develop chronic issues. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), for example, can develop from prolonged sitting with poor posture. This condition involves the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. People who sit for an extended period each day or have a high body mass index can look out for the symptoms of GERD.
While there are treatments for GERD, prevention is a better method, especially if you’re trying to prevent other health conditions associated with excessively sitting or poor posture. One of the best ways to avoid any of these kinds of health conditions is to focus on healthy body positioning while seated at work.
How to Sit Properly at Your Desk
If you are one of the 86% of Americans who sit for long periods each day, here is how you can position your body to avoid long and short-term health issues.
Support Your Back
Sitting for prolonged periods with incorrect posture can put pressure on the back muscles and spinal cord. People who slouch forward can also overstretch spinal ligaments and discs. The best way to avoid these injuries is to provide ample support for the lower back.
Some ergonomic office chairs provide support for the lumbar region, which is the lowest five vertebrates on the spine. If your chair lacks this feature, you can use a pillow for extra lower back support. This setup allows you to lean back in the chair and achieve a fully aligned spine without straining your lower back muscles.
Avoid Hunching Over
Leaning forward towards your desk causes tension in the muscles and ligaments of your upper back. It can also lead to a sore neck because the muscles have to hold your entire head up when you look at your screen.
You can avoid hunching over by looking straight ahead at the computer screen and tucking your chin back as if holding a small ball underneath it. This puts your neck in a neutral position and makes it easier to sit upright.
Set Your Screen at Eye-Level
Computer monitors that are too low or too high can lead to slouching or force you to turn your head or hold it in an unaligned position to see properly. In addition to sore neck muscles, a poorly placed screen can cause eye strain.
Placing the monitor directly in front of you, at a 90-degree angle with your eyes, can help you avoid this problem. The screen should be an arm’s length away. Adjustable monitor stands can help you achieve the correct position regardless of the current height of your desk. There are also adjustable holders for laptops that offer similar flexible positioning.
Adjust Your Chair and Desk Height
Sitting properly requires a solid base. For this reason, you need a chair that allows you to rest both feet firmly on the floor. Adjustable chairs or footrests typically help you sit with your feet grounded and thighs parallel to the floor.
The desk height should make it possible to place your wrists and forearms parallel to the floor as you use the keyboard or mouse. Otherwise, you may slouch and experience shoulder and back muscle strain, and spine misalignment. Your desk and chair should be at a height that allows elbows to remain next to your body and your arms in an “L” shape as you work.
Keep Your Feet on the Floor
If your feet are hanging or your knees are too high, it could cause extra tension in your legs, hips, and lower back. To avoid muscle and joint aches, you should ensure both feet are planted solidly on the ground or a footrest with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
Even though you are not standing, this position ensures proper alignment because it helps to distribute the weight of your upper body evenly across your waist and hips.
Have the Keyboard Straight in Front of You
Bad keyboard placement can cause you to lean to one side or slouch when working, causing muscle strain in the back, abs, or neck. The keyboard should be directly in front of you so that your arms create a mirror image when you extend them forward to type.
Keep the Mouse Close
Office workers often overlook mouse placement. Having to reach for your mouse can cause slouching, leaning, and losing proper spine alignment. Improper mouse use can also cause chronic wrist issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
A mouse should be directly to the side of the keyboard. It should be near the edge of the desk, but you should have enough room to rest your wrist on the desk when using it. If you find a mouse uncomfortable, there are always ergonomic mouses available that can support your hand better.
Other Workspace Ergonomic Tips
Body positioning is essential for avoiding short-term and chronic sitting-related health issues. There are other steps that you can take as well to improve the ergonomics and overall healthiness of your workspace.
Wear Blue Light Glasses
Blue light, which is commonly emitted from computer monitors and screens, can cause eye strain and even interfere with your natural sleep cycle. Blue-light-blocking glasses can reflect these rays, making it easier to look at a computer screen throughout the day and fall asleep at night.
Organize Your Workspace Into Zones
Organizing your workspace into ergonomic zones can help you maintain correct body positions and move efficiently during the workday. The idea is to place items around your workspace based on how much you use them throughout the day. For example, the computer, notebook, and pens may be placed at the front of the desk at an arm’s length so that you can reach them without stretching.
Get Up From Your Desk Now and Then
Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for multiple health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. You can cut these dangers by moving regularly during the day and even getting a bit of exercise at work.
Experts recommend getting up every 20 minutes to stand or move around. You can also increase physical activity by walking to and from work, taking stairs instead of an elevator when available, and getting up to stretch after sitting at your desk.
Consider Your Work Environment
Lighting, sound, and overall atmosphere can also play a role in ergonomics and the general environment. Underlit working areas or excessive glare can cause people to position themselves differently or strain their eyes.
The best way to avoid these problems is to utilize dimmable lights and natural light whenever available. A Cornell University study found that 51% of workers experienced less eye strain when working in natural light. The researchers also found a 63% reduction in headaches.
Noise can also affect the workplace. One study found an increase in errors among those who worked in noisy environments. White noise or noise-canceling headphones can help combat this problem if you work in an especially noisy environment.
Why Workspace Ergonomics Is So Important
Changing your sitting position and your office arrangement has the potential to help battle common chronic ailments. Though muscle aches in the back and neck are common symptoms of poor posture, more severe illnesses are also possible. In addition to cardiovascular and circulatory problems, incorrect body positioning can cause gastrointestinal problems such as GERD.
Inadequate nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle can compound sitting-related issues. For example, people who are overweight and have poor posture are at a higher risk for GERD and other heart and diet-related diseases.
By making these small changes, you can easily battle some of these common ailments and improve your overall well-being.