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5 Tips to Counteract the Negative Effects of a Desk Job

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We’ve all been there: sitting at a desk job for most of the day, feeling physically and mentally exhausted. But have you ever wondered why?

You wouldn’t think that your desk job would have such an impact on your health, but in reality, sitting for long periods of time is quite harmful.

The Physical and Mental Effects of Sitting

Studies show that sitting all day during a desk job can have disastrous effects on our physical and mental well-being, leading to a variety of health problems. These problems include obesity, diabetes, dementia, heart disease, various cancers, and even early death, as well as increased feelings of depression and anxiety.

The health issues associated with sitting are so widespread that this problem has been coined the sitting disease. It’s no surprise how common sitting disease is. After all, sedentary roles have increased 83% in the last 70 years, and physically active jobs only encompass 20% of the workforce.

To make matters worse, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people now work from home, often from their couch or bed. Gone are the trips to the copy machine or strolls down the hallway to connect with a coworker. But whether you work from home or in the office, the chances are you’re spending too much time sitting.

Evaluate Your Lifestyle: Do You Sit Too Much?

Think about your typical workday. What does it look like? How much time do you spend sitting at a desk? A typical eight hours?

Eight hours doesn’t sound too bad until you consider your work commute and how you spend your time after work, too. Do you spend more than an hour in your car going to and from work? Are you sitting on the couch watching television or gaming in front of a device when you get home?

These sedentary activities add to the time you spend sitting at your desk. In a full 24-hour day, the typical office worker sits for 15 hours, including during and after work. This means that the average person spends more than half of the day sitting. 

You may be wondering, “If I exercise regularly, will sitting all day still affect my health?” Unfortunately, it will. Even if you exercise for seven hours a week, you won’t be able to reverse the effects of sitting for seven consecutive hours.

While you can’t reverse the negative effects of sitting all day by hitting the gym a few hours a week, incorporating physical activity throughout your workday can help. Here are five tips to help you counteract the negative effects of a desk job.

Tip #1: Incorporate Physical Activity Throughout Your Workday   

This tip may seem like an easy one, but many of us still need to be reminded to get up and move around throughout the day. Try to sit for no longer than 30 minutes at a time. You can set your computer or smart watch to remind you to walk around for at least several minutes after each half hour at your desk.

To break up your sitting time even further, think of ways to add more activity to your day. For example, instead of placing your trash can right beside your desk, move it to the far side of your office. That way, you’ll need to get up every time you have to throw something out.

Do you keep a large water bottle at your desk? Try using a small water glass instead so you’ll have to refill it more frequently. Each time you stand up, add in some stretches or a few squats before you sit back down.

There are lots of simple ways to add extra movement into your day. Get creative and have fun with it!

Tip #2: Use Your Lunch Break to Incorporate Physical Activities   

To get even more movement throughout the workday, consider going for a walk during your lunch break. A 30-minute walk could help you reach recommended exercise guidelines.

Try incorporating some fun physical activities during your lunch break, such as walking your dog, lunch-time yoga or a midday workout. You could even use your lunch break to run an errand or take the kids to the park. No matter what you do, get in the habit of moving away from your desk.

If your schedule is often jam-packed with meetings, you may find it difficult to squeeze some physical activity into your desk job. In fact, you may find yourself skipping your lunch break altogether to attend a meeting or finish some work.

To counter this issue, consider a “walking meeting,” where instead of sitting down, you walk around your office. You can also try this during phone calls. Not only will walking help you increase your activity levels, but it may also boost your job focus and creativity.

Tip #3: Revamp Your Work Station to Help Mitigate the Negative Effects of Sitting

There are currently many different products on the market to help mitigate the negative effects of sitting at a desk all day.

Standing desks can help you stay on your feet at work, and many of them let you alternate between standing and sitting positions. If you can’t afford a standing desk, try working at your kitchen island or modifying your own desk to set your computer higher.

If you want to incorporate more physical activity in your workday without leaving your workstation, another alternative is to invest in a cycling desk or treadmill desk. Remember to research your options to determine which desk will best fit your lifestyle, budget and office space. 

Tip #4: Check Your Posture If You Find Your Back or Neck Hurting

If you find your back or neck hurting at the end of the day, you may want to take a closer look at your posture during your desk job. Sitting at a desk with bad posture can have a negative effect on your body, causing shoulder and back pain, “tech neck,” headaches, and muscle fatigue.

It is important to maintain good posture throughout the day. When you’re seated, make sure your back is properly supported. Consider using an ergonomic chair, which is designed to promote good posture. Some additional tips to promote good posture while sitting at a desk include:

  • Keeping your back and shoulders straight.
  • Distributing your body weight evenly between your hips. It is not recommended to sit with your legs or ankles crossed.
  • Keeping your feet flat on the floor.
  • Ensuring your computer monitor is about an arm’s length away and at eye level.

Tip #5: Use an Activity Tracker to Help You Stay Mindful of Your Activity Levels

Sometimes, it’s easy to get distracted by your work. You may become engrossed in a project and not realize you haven’t stood up in several hours. An activity tracker could help you stay more mindful of your activity levels.  

Depending on which brand you choose, an activity tracker can help you in several ways. A tracker can prompt you to get moving if you’ve been inactive for a while. It can also give you a deeper understanding of what your activity levels look like throughout the day, helping you better manage your movement.

If you do not want to purchase an activity tracker, most smart phones have them built in. There are also a variety of activity tracker apps available, such as:

  • Pacer Pedometer & Step Tracker: This app, which includes a step tracker, lets you create walking groups to compare your steps with others’ steps in real-time. 
  • MyFitnessPal: For those who want more than an activity tracker, MyFitnessPal includes food logging tools and nutrition tips.
  • Fitbit: Did you know you can use the Fitbit app even if you don’t have a Fitbit? The app includes many helpful features, such as workout videos and sleep tools.
  • Stand Up! The Work Break Timer: This app lets you set alarms to remind you to take a break from your desk job, and you can even monitor your progress for the last seven days. 

Additional Tips to Stay Active at Home or in the Office

Whether you work from home or in an office, there are many ways you can stay active throughout the workday.

If you’re in an office, take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you don’t have time to walk during your lunch break, perform some exercises at your desk.

There are various online resources with exercises that you can do right in your office, most of which don’t even require additional equipment. In fact, some let you utilize your desk and chair. How convenient is that?

By incorporating these different tips into your workday routine, you’ll be well on your way to mitigating the negative effects of your desk job. Your body and mind will thank you!

Jessica has worked for the university since 2018, serving as an Academic Advisor for the Schools of STEM and Business before transitioning into Career Services as a Career Coach. She holds a M.S. in Counseling from the University of the District of Columbia and a M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University.

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