The Right Way to Sit: How to Improve Your Health From Behind a Desk

Posted by Bethaney Wallace on 19th Feb 2014

This article is part three in a series on the medical dangers of sitting.

For the past week we’ve been talking about just how detrimental it can be for the body when sitting long term. Whether perching behind a desk in the office or working on some type of movie marathon record, sitting for too many hours in a day can cause serious damage to the body. And the longer these habits take place, the more advanced its effects can become. However, by sitting correctly and working to get movement – even if it’s intermittent – on a regular basis, these medical hazards can be greatly reduced.

So – how does one sit “correctly”? By focusing attention toward the way the body is aligned, as well as creating an ergonomically sound space.

Start by adjusting your desk so that everything is properly set up. This means feet flat on the floor, and elbows at a 90-degree angle (when typing). This will allow the body to naturally support itself without straining or reaching for a comfortable position. It also eliminates the chance at nerves getting pinched while clicking or typing.

Additionally, be sure to check that:

  • You aren’t leaning forward.
  • Shoulders are relaxed at all times (especially when typing).
  • Arms stay close to your sides when resting, which can increase blood flow and movement.
  • The lower back is supported, whether through the help of a chair or additional cushion.

Finally comes the most important aspect of all: sit up straight. It may be often repeated, but that’s because it works. A straightened spine is one that provides optimum blood flow, reduces tension on the rear and lower back, and keeps the back itself from developing aches and pains. For most, this is a hard habit to get into – especially after years of slouching – but once learned, muscle memory takes over and allows you to sit up straight without even thinking about it. A perk that only continues to strengthen upon itself.

The “Right” Way to Sit

Aside from ensuring your work desk is there to provide optimum sitting health, there are plenty of other tactics to take on. Just by being aware of these hazards and the steps that can help reverse them, sitters of all lengths are on their way to greatly improving their everyday health.

Start by evaluating the surface you sit upon. Opting for an exercise ball or stool (without a back) will allow you to strengthen your core while sitting. However, if a chair is preferred, use one that’s supportive of the rear and lower back. (No mesh bottoms or non-adjustable backs.)Next, comes regular movement break periods. Every hour or so, it’s a good idea to get up and moving to encourage blood flow and the loosening of muscles. If you need a reminder, download a time management app, set a timer, or get an electronic bracelet that reminds you to get up and exercising after a certain interval of sitting.

Whatever your method of choice, it’s helpful to go on short walks between TV or working breaks, as well as stretching out specific muscle groups, like the hip flexors. Perch on one knee at a time and lean forward to keep these flexors loose. This will avoid elasticizing, while giving the body some much-needed exercise. It’s also a good idea to work on stretching out arms, shoulders, neck muscles, and the back.

Also on the list of helpful items:

  • Creating a standing workstation. Many desks can be heightened with the addition of a simple stand made to hold computers or keyboards.
  • Using yoga poses and/or stretches. Opt for one long session at the beginning or end of your workday, or look to different poses during breaks to keep the blood flowing even when sitting.

Long-time sitting doesn’t have to be a negative health sentence. By taking the proper precautions and working in movement when possible, you can easily get the body into healthier shape … sitting or not.