Ask someone what perfect desk posture looks like and odds are they'll sit bolt upright, chest out and stiff as a surfboard. However, ask them to maintain this posture for more than a couple of minutes and they'll struggle.
In this article, we bust the 'perfect posture' myth and share 6 memorable ideas that'll help relieve pressure on your spine and beat away those backache blues.
Let's face it. We spend hours sitting on our backsides while our poor spine works overtime to compensate. Long periods sat in awkward positions places unnatural pressures on the spinal joints, compression on the spinal discs and can lead to aches, sprains and even deterioration of the discs themselves.
The total volume of sedentary time and its accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts are associated with all-cause mortality, suggestive that physical activity guidelines shoulder target reducing and interrupting sedentary time to reduce risk for death.
Tips to master your workspace
So, what can we do to mitigate some of these risks in a way that's sustainable in the long term? Simply read on and you'll MASTER your workspace in no time.
M - Minimize muscle activity
The difficulty with the surfboard-like figure many people associate with 'perfect posture' is that it demands far too much muscle activity to maintain, placing unnecessary stress on the lower back in particular and leading to muscle fatigue and tiredness.
It's therefore worth remembering that one of the keys to better desk posture is to keep our muscle usage to a minimum.
A - Allow space for wiggle room
Another typical misconception about correct sitting posture is that it should involve a ninety-degree angle between your lap and your back, usually attained by sitting as far back in the chair as possible. However, the problem with this position is that it allows very little room for manoeuvre and can again lead to stiffness.
Contrary to popular belief, a more relaxed position has the worker sitting slightly backwards in the chair (at an angle greater than 90 degrees) and with feet slightly out in front. Rather than wedging yourself into the angle of your chair, try to leave a little room at the back to allow for positional adjustments from time to time. Such movements help to re-engage your muscles and joints.
S - Shift position every 10 minutes
In fact, rather than one 'perfect posture', several seated postures may be appropriate for different people. Generally, they all allow the worker to feel comfortable, place minimal strain on the body and keep the spine in an open position.
Sitting in any of these positions for too long can lead to discomfort, so consciously try to ensure variety by shifting through a cycle of positions throughout the working day.
T - Take a break every 30 minutes
This probably goes without saying as taking breaks is often the first thing brought up in any discussion on sitting posture. But how long should we wait before taking a break and is there any evidence supporting this suggestion?
A study into patterns of sedentary behavior and mortality in the US found that not only was total sedentary time best kept to a minimum, but that "prolonged, uninterrupted sedentary bouts are jointly associated with increased mortality risk". Moreover, the study concluded that "breaking up sedentary time every 30 min may be protective against the health risks incurred by prolonged sedentariness".
Easier said than done, right? If you're someone who gets so focused on their work that the rest of the world quickly zones out of existence, reminding yourself to get out of your chair can be a huge task in itself.
Well, here are two handy apps that allow you to set alarm reminders on your phone at regular intervals and between the hours of your choice:
For example, set your app to buzz at half-hour intervals between the hours of 9am and 6pm. Next, set your mind at ease now that you no longer have to watch the clock.
E - Ergonomize
The position of your desk, tabletop, chair, mouse and keyboard has a significant effect on the amount of muscle activity required to keep your various body parts in position.
When adjusting the ergonomics of your workspace arrangement, the key factors to consider are:
distance from eyes to screen.
The ideal heights of these are dependent on the height of the person. Enter your height into this handy workplace planner from Ergotron and it'll give you all the dimensions you need for both sitting or standing workspace arrangements.
Our work habits have changed over time, which has presented the need to re-evaluate the needs of our employees in order to ensure we facilitate a healthy lifestyle.
In many workplaces, there has been a gradual shift away from the use of desktop computers in favour of laptops - driven by their greater portability and the rise in 'hot desk' culture. However, for many, the shift from desktop to laptop has not been accompanied with any means of correcting the ideal height of the screen (whose top should be roughly at eye level). A laptop stand is a worthwhile investment to help deal with this, though note you'll need also need a separate mouse and keyboard to ensure your hands can operate at a comfortable height.
Height-adjustable desks have also become popular in some workplaces and allow workers the option of sitting or standing - a great way to mix up your position. If you do choose to go this route, remember to actually make use of the adjustable feature at regular intervals throughout the day. In addition, if you're thinking of purchasing a desk, consider one with a slightly lower tier to hold keyboard and mouse. These bring your hands down to a much more comfortable position and put less strain on your wrists and elbows.
R - Raise awareness of weight distribution
In the longer term, try to grow a better understanding of how the weight of your body is being distributed.
It may help to think of your body being suspended on a string. All your bodyweight is being supported by several points of contact between you and a surface. Typically, these contacts points will be your feet, bottom and back (if seated), elbows (if using an elbow-rest) and wrists.
During the working day, ask yourself questions that assess how and where your weight is being distributed (and any subsequent strain being placed upon a body part).
Is there excessive weight falling on any particular body part?
Can I feel the floor with my feet?
If sitting, is more weight falling on one buttock than the other?
Is there any unnecessary strain being placed on my wrists?
Do this regularly and you'll develop a great awareness of your weight distribution in no time. When you drift into awkward, unnatural positions, this awareness will help you prompt yourself to shift position accordingly and re-distribute your weight.
Are you a workspace master?
Time to put your knowledge to the test.
Can you remember the 6 tips to MASTER your workspace?