One thing that always amazes me about switching from being a lawyer to being a movement teacher is how much time I still spend on the computer.
Even once you adjust for ‘time wasted on Facebook’, running a business these days requires lots of screen time.
So with that in mind – and along with the fact that we all know that sitting, hunching over computers, and basically being sedentary is ultra bad for us – I thought I’d share my favourite tips for staying healthy at work, whether you work in an office or in your living room.
1. Take frequent, short breaks.
Your body requires movement in order to function correctly. This is not optional. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be much movement. You just have to do anything that’s not sitting at a computer, staring at a screen, and typing. Unfortunately, it can be really hard to actually tear yourself away from the desk, which means you have to be super proactive about this. There are a few options here.
- Try using an alarm or a timer app that will interrupt you every 20 minutes or so. A phone works great for this – just make sure you don’t forget it at your desk when you go to meetings, because it will super annoy your co-workers.
- Build in some organic breaks by drinking lots and lots of water. This will require trips to both the cooler and the bathroom, and as an added bonus, you’ll be well-hydrated.
- Plan more coffee and lunch breaks as walking breaks. You’ll enjoy work more, because you won’t be there as much, and because your entire body will be happier.
- Consider what you’re doing during your breaks. Walking is excellent. So is stretching (you can get my free e-book – My Top Five Stretches to Save Your Body From Your Computer by signing up for my newsletter to the left). Getting outside is perfect because it will help rest your eyes as well as the rest of you.
2. Optimize Your Desk Set-Up
So I am cautious about ergonomics. Because ergonomics is the science of finding the ‘best’ position for your body. And guess what? There is no such thing. Your body is supposed to be in lots, and lots, and lots of different positions, and that’s how you stay healthy.
That said, there’s a lot you can do with your set-up that’s going to make it either better or worse for you. Better to me means ‘promotes variety & movement’, and worse means ‘keeps you in one place a lot, particularly in a place that tends to create strain’. So…
- If you have a sitting desk, consider ways you can spend some time standing. Either by getting a doctor’s note, or by buying your own desk, or by piling cardboard boxes on your current desk.
- If you have a standing desk, consider ways you can create varying loads – such as with simple stretches or props that create new surfaces. As I’m writing this, I’m rolling my foot out on a ball. I also have a box of river rocks I often stand on. Or I do calf stretches with my half-dome. Make sure you have somewhere to rest, because just standing all the time is pretty much as bad as just sitting all the time.
- Either way, learn how to sit and how to stand correctly, so that you’re not crushing your bones & joints!
3. Consider Your Barriers
What’s stopping you from moving at work? Once you know this, you can figure out what to do about it. Here are some of the barriers I’ve noticed for myself.
- Clothes – Work clothes can be restrictive, uncomfortable, hard to walk in, and downright unhealthy (here’s looking at you, high heels!). One of my favourite things about my new job is that I’m actually supposed to wear yoga clothes all day, but I know that’s not always a good option for the office. However, loose tops, comfortable pants, and minimal shoes can all be configured to look professional and still allow you to be healthy. Try my minimal shoe guide to start you off, and check out these awesome, dressy yoga pants to start giving you ideas.
- Social Pressure – Do you feel ridiculous stretching at the office? That’s the trouble with being part of a paradigm shift – there can be a lot of pressure to stick with the status quo. To counteract this, can you find a friend or two who want to stretch with you? Alternatively, consider doing some mindfulness training to help you identify how much of this pressure is internally created. Or find an unused meeting room where you can spend two minutes stretching with no-one watching. Or just focus on walking and skip the stretches.
- Time Pressure – Got a deadline? Your health is usually the first thing that gets sacrificed. So first, remember that most of us aren’t actually productive 100% of the time – taking breaks actually increases productivity for most people. Second, remember that there are lots of ways to move that don’t prevent you from working. I’m standing on one leg right now, exercising my lateral hip muscles, and typing like crazy.
- Habit Changing – An article like this one is giving you about a billion things to try. It’s kind of too much. Try doing *one* of the things I’m suggesting here, not all of them. And once you’ve made that a habit, you can add another one.
- A Hostile Workplace – There are some environments that truly make it impossible to move, for whatever reason. Thankfully, more and more companies are getting on the bandwagon and becoming more supportive of movement initiatives. But if you’re in the other type of workplace, maybe it’s time to start considering a change.
4. Change what you do outside of work
Sit in a chair all the time at work? Then stop sitting in a chair so much at home. Just making the change to sitting on the floor (using bolsters, cushions and poofs to help you respect the current length of your muscles), will be a giant change for your body, without forcing you to take extra time to exercise. Plus every time you get up and down off the floor, you’ll have a chance to do a mini-workout.
Change up how you use your phone, with these great suggestions from Breaking Muscle. Yes, you’ll look a bit strange, but that’s kind of the point – the harder you make it to use your phone, the less you’ll do it, and the happier your neck will be.
You can also choose to park further from the office, and add a few extra blocks of walking to your day, every day. Or if you take transit, get off a stop early. These are small changes, but they really add up. Try going camping! It’s awesome for adding a weekend – or longer – full of all-day movement to your life!
5. Choose exercise that changes your geometry
Whether you’re exercising on a mini-break, or doing something more intense, choose something that will get your body into different shapes than your desk does.
When you’re sitting a lot, your body is probably doing this:
– Your knees are bent at 90 degrees.
– Your hips are flexed at 90 degrees.
– Your pelvis is tucked.
– Your arms are internally rotated.
– Your head is forward.
So you need to start doing other stuff.
Sadly, cycling, ellipticals, and most gym equipment keep you in that same knees bent, hips flexed, forward shoulders position. Instead, activities like walking, roller blading and cross country skiing all encourage hip extension – which is what your body needs most to counteract the effects of all that sitting. And, consider taking up a body-friendly activity like Restorative Exercise – which has been developed specifically to help rescue your body from the trials of modern life (aka screens + sitting!!).
Here are two really great options for better, anti-desk exercise.
First, I’m delighted to be teaching the Office Antidote – a four week movement class starting September 16 where you will learn how to sit better, stand better, type better and move more every day at the office. You can find out more or sign up by emailing me at petra at petrafishermovement.com.
Second, Katy Bowman and Mark Sisson have just released their exciting new project, ‘Don’t Just Sit There’ which, in their words, is “a comprehensive multimedia course that gives you all the information and guidance you need to move out of the sedentary-risk category so that you are finally sitting, standing, and moving properly. Katy Bowman will show you how to make your workplace healthier—which means more variation in desk positioning, more movement breaks, and better observation of optimal body alignment and body ergonomics.”
So there you go. It’s a list of 5 things, with lots of sub-parts – and any one of them can help get you on the road to better health today, no matter where you work!