For many, September means a return to reality. The kids are back at school and the holiday luggage has long been unpacked. Time spent away with sun, sea and sand does the world of good, both physically and mentally. But when the time comes to return to the day job, that sense of serenity and the full-body relaxation we manage to instill while lying on the sun lounger can quickly dissipate. Especially if the day job requires eight hours sat at a desk. We’ve teamed up with the leading practitioners at Six Physio for some advice in how to maintain a good posture and a sense of all-round wellbeing when it’s time to swap the lilo for the desk chair.
ARE YOU SITTING DOWN?
The setup of modern society means that we’re sitting more than ever before. From vehicle to office job to sofa, it’s hardly surprising that adults of working age in England average about 9.5 hours per day of sedentary time. Worryingly, research has linked long periods of sedation with a number of health complaints including obesity, increased blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. On top of this, the majority of us can hold our hands up to having bad posture. Sitting, or even standing and lying, for any length of time with poor posture puts stress on the muscles, joints and ligaments. You may be at risk of developing physical strain and overuse injuries. These can cause pain and damage, for example back, neck and shoulder ache. Out of the desk chair and away from workplace stresses, we’re more relaxed, our shoulders will naturally drop and we may notice that niggling aches, pains or tensions will be eased. But unfortunately you could undo all of this within a few days slouched back at your desk.
IT’S ALL ABOUT POSTURE
So what is good posture? Well, your shoulders should be relaxed, down and back and your chin slightly tucked in. You should be sitting with a curve in the lower back as this will allow the pelvis to sit directly under the shoulders. Ensure that your chair is high enough so that you hips are slightly higher than knees. You may need to tilt the seat if necessary. When relaxed and carefree, you’ll probably find that you adopt a similar posture naturally, whereas feeling tense and agitated can cause our shoulders to rise and our back to tense. When bored or lethargic, you may find that you have a tendency to slump down in your seat or sit with your weight on one side. Most of us could benefit from spending less time sitting down, and that applies even if you’re keeping active. Thankfully, even if your job requires you to sit at a desk and/or spend long periods of time working on a computer, there are things you can do to help maintain good posture and a sense of calm and wellbeing at work.
KEEP ON THE MOVE
Whether it’s a gym class, a walk or a sports game, making movement a daily non-negotiable will go a long way in retaining a relaxed physical stature throughout the day. It’ll do wonders for your mental health too. It really doesn’t need to be strenuous, and you can break it up into manageable increments, for example, 30 minutes in the gym, a 10 minute walk during your lunch break and a 20 minute walk home. Make movement part of your workday too, afterall, motion is lotion. Get up and move at least once every 60 minutes, take the stairs instead of the lift, wherever possible, stand instead of sitting and instead of email or calling your colleagues, walk over to talk to them.
THE RIGHT SETUP
If the majority of your day does need to be spent behind a desk, you’d do well to make sure your workplace is carefully set up. Your computer screen should be about an arm’s length away from you and the top of your screen level with your forehead so that you’re not looking up or down. Your keyboard and mouse should be at a height that keeps your elbows at your side and bent at 90 degrees, and you shouldn’t be reaching too far to use them. One of the most common complaints seen at Six Physio is neck pain or pain at the base of the skull, which comes from poking the chin out, so try to keep your head directly over your shoulders and don’t lean toward your computer.
TRY A STANDING DESK
Sitting is really the enemy of our body and spine but unfortunately, the reality of the world today has a lot of us stuck in the office, motionless and sedentary. Six Physio recommend that, where possible, you minimise sitting to 20 minutes at a time. This is easily achievable with a standing desk. Research shows that people who use a standing desk had less upper back and neck pain and felt more energised, comfortable, productive and focused than people who didn’t use one. There are a number or varieties on the market but the best are the ones that will slot easily on top of your desk and take you from smoothly from sitting to standing. Without being slumped in a chair all day, you should notice a huge difference in your working habits and an invigorating boost in your energy levels.
It can be frustrating when you come back from holiday feeling refreshed, only to have the feeling quickly undone when you arrive back at work. If you do find yourself with poor alignment or annoying niggles and aches sitting at your desk, you may want to book a consultation with a physiotherapist. One of the key aspects of physical therapy involves assessing weak areas in a patient’s body, and formulating a PT plan to help strengthen these vulnerable points. By recognising the areas of muscular or skeletal weakness, a physical therapist can analyse how likely it is that a patient will suffer injury, and create an exercise regimen that targets and strengthens weak muscle groups and joints, thus preventing future injuries in these areas.
For more information about Six Physio, visit sixphysio.com