Self-Care Solutions: Your Body Sitting at a Computer
How you sit and how long you sit can affect how balanced a life you lead, and as a result, how long of a life you live. If that sounds a little unnerving, it should. The average American sits longer than ever—up to an astounding 13 hours per day! Sedentary lifestyles can cause a host of physical and mental health issues. Even weekend warriors and those who manage to squeeze in a morning workout before a long day of sitting are not completely out of the woods.
So, what are we supposed to do when school and work are so central to our lives? Here’s a closer look at what happens to your body when you sit, and how you can make some healthy changes.
The physical side:
You might recognize some of the more common symptoms of sitting as stiff neck and/or shoulders, headaches, a slow digestive system, tight hip muscles, a foggy brain, and fatigue. But, according to Harvard Health, prolonged sitting can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and possibly even dementia. It also increases your risk of high blood pressure, lowered levels of concentration, spinal issues, brittle bones, bad circulation, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
The mental side:
Forgetting where you put your keys or if you took the clothes out of the washer from time to time is completely normal. But when you take away the human interaction, or keep the same mental thought process for hours on end, your brain starts to get foggy. This leads to a shorter reaction time and lowered exposure to social interactions. Consequences of sitting can lead to depression, decreased cognition and cognitive awareness, social separation, and overall psychological distress and anxiety.
So what can you do to combat the negative side effects of sitting for too long? Start by doing posture checks.
Next time you’re sitting at a computer, do a posture check to see how you position yourself. If you notice some of the behaviors listed below, repeat the posture check every 15 minutes while correcting those habits.
- Shoulders, head, and hands:
- Are your shoulders both rounded over toward your computer?
- Are they hiked up to your ears?
- Do you dip one shoulder forward?
- Lean on an elbow?
- Is your head protruding forward?
- Are your fingertips higher than your wrists?
- Legs, hips, and feet:
- Are both feet flat on the ground?
- Do you sit on the edge of your seat or back with your feet up?
- Are your legs crossed?
- Do you turn one hip in toward the desk and open the other out to the side?
How to Sit Healthier
Step 1: Ground your feet. Make sure your feet are underneath your knees and not under your rear end or out in front of you. Doing so will change the position of how your pelvis sits in the chair.
Step 2: Keep your legs hip distance apart. Do not cross your legs, slouch your hips low in your seat, or sit on the edge of your seat. Just remember that what your hips do, your shoulders do. So sit with each hip level on a comfortably padded seat.
Step 3: Sit with a tall spine and rest your fingertips on the keyboard with light elbows resting on the desk—if at all. Try to imagine typing with tennis balls underneath your palms. This will help anyone suffering from carpal tunnel or moderate wrist pain. Also, do not lean back in your chair while you are working. Teach your core and back muscles to work by sitting upright with your own support.
Step 4: After grounding your feet, relaxing your legs, sitting with even hips, and coming into a tall spine, start focusing on where your shoulders are placed. Since we typically have one dominant shoulder, try to work on evening those shoulders out.
Try Forrest Yoga shoulder shrugs to help train your shoulders to hold steady. Raise your shoulders up to your ears, pinch them back, and then roll your shoulder blades down your back. Relax the arms. Squeeze your mid-shoulder blades together and slide them back and down. Relax the arms. Last, think about squeezing the lower points of the shoulder blades together and pull them back and down. Repeat 5 to 10 times, a few times a day.
Step 5: Last but not least, put your head back where it belongs—on top of your neck. One of the most common spinal issues is an anterior slant of the cervical spine, or neck. This can cause everything from headaches, to tight chest muscles, to tight hip flexors, and nearly every medical condition listed above. Work on strengthening your neck muscles before you go to bed each night. As you lay with your head on your pillow, press the back of the head into the pillow and release. Try 25 repetitions every night (unless you have neck or shoulder injuries).
As you can see, there’s a lot more going on as you sit and work than just work. The more awareness you can create of your current workspace and how you choose to work around those circumstances will improve your life day to day. For more tips on how to stay active when you’re stuck at a desk all day, read “Self-Care Solutions: Your Excuse-Free Daily Activity Reminders.”