Keeping fit in the workplace
The Office of National Statistics doesn’t have figures on how many people in the UK have desk-based jobs, but our guess is many millions. Despite progress being made in terms of flexible working hours, it’s probably fair to assume that most office workers still spend 7 to 7.5 daylight hours a day at their desks. It’s no wonder that people present to physiotherapists complaining of neck pain, shoulder tension, headaches, repetitive strain injury and more.
So what can you do to stay healthy in the office?
First and foremost, sit up tall in your chair with your legs uncrossed and breathe, remembering to take some deeper breaths throughout the day to stretch through your diaphragm, ribs and intercostal muscles.
Avoid hunching your upper back when looking down at mobile devices as this can lead to ‘text neck’. And if you’re sitting hunched and looking up at a computer screen this can lead to a ‘chin poke’ posture. Both of these positions put strain through the base of your neck.
Don’t wedge the telephone between your ear and your shoulder as this places strain on the muscles of the neck, upper back and shoulder.
Adjust the height of your chair and computer screen so that your hips are slightly higher than your knees. Place your forearms in a roughly horizontal position when using your mouse and keyboard, and your eyes should be about level with the top of your screen.
Adjust the backrest of your chair so you can lean against it comfortably. Ensure your lower back is well supported and your feet are flat on the floor or on a footrest.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy recommends the following easy exercises that can be done at your desk regularly throughout the day:
Keep using all the muscles in your arms and legs. You can do simple biceps curls holding a bottle of water, and you can march with your legs under the desk.
Rotate your upper body in your chair to the right and reach for the backrest with your left hand, hold for 5 seconds. Repeat to the other side.
Interlock your fingers, pushing your palms away from your body, stretching your arms, shoulder blades and fingers – hold for 5 seconds.
Reach over your head, bending to the side at the waist and straighten up. Swap sides and repeat 10 times.
Take regular breaks
Here are some good reasons why stepping away from the screen is so important:
It gives a chance for your eyes to relax from the close-up work and the glare of the computer screen.
Walking around will often immediately relieve aches and pains. Do a task that takes you to another floor of the building and, if you can, take the stairs not the lift.
You can do some full body standing stretches or bend and stretch towards a wall. Stand about a metre away from a wall, bend at the pelvis so your upper body is perpendicular to the floor and stretch out your hands to the wall. You should feel a good stretch through the whole of the length of the spine.
Get outdoors during your lunch hour for some fresh air and sunlight or to meet up with friends. You could even do a short exercise class to really invigorate you for the afternoon.
Stepping away from the work environment can also help diffuse stress. We can all face challenging tasks, situations or behaviours in the workplace, but these don’t have to dominate the entire working day. Step away, breathe, and raise any concerns early with your employer.
Take short breaks for drinks and healthy snacks. Try not to have your lunch at your desk, but if you do, at least take a break from work. Flick through a newspaper or magazine, talk to a colleague, or simply look out a window.
Try not to take work home with you. Use your spare time to do exercise and the other activities you enjoy.
And absolutely, definitely, take your entire holiday allowance every year.