According to the American Time Use Survey, the average American spends 8.7 hours at work on the average workday. I don’t know what the statistics are for similarly work-inclined areas like Western Europe but I imagine that the figure is more or less the same. That’s a crazy amount of time which equates to around fourteen years and four months of your life that you will spend at your work.
There is an accurate saying that says how we spend our days is our how we spend our lives. Although we don’t have much choice in the matter about having to go to work, what we do have control over is our work environment. Whatever you do for a living, it most likely involves a screen of some sort. Slouching over a screen in an artificially-lit environment for fourteen years wouldn’t do anyone any good. In fact, we spend approximately $90 billion annually on the diagnosis and management of lower back pain. If your lower back hurts, it might be something to do with how you are spending ~8 hours of your day, every day.
If you are an individual (which you probably are), it is worth your while thinking about how you can be kinder to your wellbeing during this unnatural era of chairs, desks and keyboards. If you are a boss, it is worth thinking about how you can optimise the entire workspace of your office for healthy bodies and productive employees.
Here are some ideas – mostly from the fantastic Aaron Alexander – that will give you some indicators as to how to optimise your workspace for better movement and which will result in a longer, healthier life…
Raise your screen height
If your screen is low, particularly below eye level, there is a good chance that you spend a decent chunk of your day with your head tilted forward into a postural state of depression – also known as Mopey archetype. On the other hand, keeping your head up, chest out and spine aligned is linked to naturally improving mood and is also much better for your body, neck and head.
The best way to find your ideal height is to sit up (or stand up) straight in your workspace and align your screen to about eye level or just above eye level. This is the optimal height where you are most likely to keep yourself in a positive position as you work.
To do this, you can go as simple as stacking a few books under your monitor or go as complex as buying an adjustable desk (which I highly recommend for the sitting/standing flexibility that you get).
Take regular eye breaks
Taking a break from your screen to gaze out of the window at nature isn’t just a great way to procrastinate, it is actually beneficial to not just eye health but your overall health.
We spend most of our days in a focused, near-sighted stare that puts particular stress on our eyes. Opening up your gaze or what people might refer to as ‘zoning out’ actually helps to relax the eyes and relax you at the same time.
There is a well-known study published in the Journal of Science that demonstrated that recovering patients who had access to a view outside of their window were ready to be released from care on average a full day faster than those who were left to recover in a place without a window and a view.
Whether you are a recovering patient or a normal functioning worker, take some time to stare at the scenery and your entire wellbeing will thank you for it.
Keep your pelvis above your knees
This was a bit of a game-changer for me. If your chair is too low down, your butt is close to the floor and your knees are raised higher than your hips, this is when you start to run into all sorts of knee and lower back trouble.
The starting point for sitting correctly on a chair is to make sure that your pelvis is raised above your knees. This puts your pelvis and lower back in a more balanced position as you are now resting on your ischial tuberosities – more commonly known as your ‘sit bones’.
Why is this important? The lowest vertebrae in your spine are naturally more wedge-shaped and therefore tilt your pelvis forward just a little bit. This is something that you want to embrace, not work against if you want to maintain a healthy lower back and joints.
The easiest way to do this is to simply adjust the height of your chair through its little lever or stack some pillows under your butt.
The best working position? All of them
I mentioned earlier that I use an adjustable desk and it is, without doubt, one of the best ergonomic investments that I have ever made as a guy who spends most of his working days in front of a screen.
Although I love my desk because it allows me to stand and work as well as sit and work, there isn’t just one way to do it. Standing all day without movement can be just as detrimental to your health as sitting all day without movement. Just like there is an art to sitting, there is an art to standing too and if you aren’t standing correctly at your desk, you may as well not do it at all.
The key to a flexible, pain-free, healthy body is to keep changing your working position. Stand up and work for a little while. When your legs start to tire, take a seat for thirty minutes or so. If you can allow it depending on where you work, sit on a couple of cushions on the floor and do some work there for a little while.
There isn’t one position that will solve all of your workplace health issues – despite all of the popularity that standing gets at the moment. The key is to keep changing it up and to keep your body using a variety of its different muscles throughout the day.
Include regular movement
This transitions nicely into the final point which is the need to include regular movement throughout your workday. Standing and sitting is a good start but certainly isn’t the only movement that you should be getting across an eight-hour stretch. It has also been stated again and again that an exercise session at the end of the day isn’t going to counteract all of the inactivity during it.
Taking regular bathroom breaks, going for a walk on your lunch, doing some lunges or squats in the hallway every half an hour or so are all good ways to get low-intensity, regular movement incorporated into your life.
An easy way to get more movement in during your work day is to make certain things more inconvenient than they otherwise might be. Leave your phone out of arms reach so you have to physically move when you want it. Leave your snacks in the break room so you have to get up and walk if you want anything. Move the bin next to your desk to another room. Use a smaller water bottle so you have to go and fill it up more often.
Sometimes inconvenience is your friend and all of these small but meaningful extra movement moments in your day multiplied out over a year result in some serious mileage.
Aaron Alexander teams up with Aubrey Marcus in this short video to discuss and demonstrate many of these techniques as well as a few others not mentioned here. If you are serious about giving your body some lovin’ whilst you are at work, I definitely recommend giving this video a watch.