It’s been called the new cancer and it’s killing us. Sitting all day hunched forward looking at a screen causes a laundry list of horrific health problems from heart and brain damage to the back, hip and neck problems – so what can be done?
Linda Trim, Director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, said that such is the growing awareness of the dangers of sitting, that in addition to ensuring correct ergonomics for desks and chairs, she increasingly works with movement specialists like Monja Boonzaier, who helps employees preserve their health in the office.
Boonzaier, (who teaches locally the internationally accepted Feldenkrais Method of body awareness and movement) said that although many people understand how bad all day sitting is, much of the advice on how to combat it “is impractical and wrong.”
“For example, people are advised to sit leaning back. But how can you sit back in the chair and work on a computer? A lot of advice is also centered around having a strong core because you need those muscles to hold you upright.
“It’s a good theory but people know from their own experience a strong stomach does not make you sit upright. If you watch someone who has been told to sit or stand straight they cannot maintain this ‘correct’ position without a continuous effort. As soon as their attention shifts to an activity that is interesting they will slump back to their original posture.”
Boonzaier said that dynamic sitting is a powerful solution and is increasingly taught the world over as a way to combat the ill effects of sitting all day.
“We recommend arm and wrist stretches, doing side bends to the left and the right to stretch lower back pains, and also doing glute stretches like lunges or swinging each leg forward and back while standing. You should also regularly roll your feet, rock your pelvis back and forth, shifting your weight to the left and right sides of your seat, and press each ear to its nearest shoulder. “
Boonzaier says this only takes a few minutes and suggests doing a few of them every hour as it will dramatically reduce joint stiffness and back pain. “Ideally people should also get up from their desks and walk around the office or up and down the stairs every hour too.”
Trim warned however that stretching at work doesn’t mean you can skip exercise. “The three best exercises to combat sitting for long spells are squats, lunges and wall sits. The best thing about these exercises that you can do them anywhere, you don’t need a gym.”
Trim added that ergonomically friendly desks and chairs were also fundamental to good office health. “Amongst other things, this means having an adjustable chair that supports your spine and allows you to sit with feet flat on the floor and thighs parallel to the floor. Desks should have clearance for your knees. Computer monitors should be placed directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard.”
Trim concluded by noting that there is another often overlooked aspect of sitting all day – we forget to breathe. ”Bad posture and stress at work often makes us forget to breathe properly. Every hour, take a few moments to take three or four really deep breaths. Breathe in deeply and then out slowly and press the breath out of your lungs. This can be done while stretching.”