How to Overcome the Harmful Effects of Sitting at a Desk

Effects of sitting at a desk

We sit down more than ever before.

Think about it: you probably sit down six of the eight hours you are at work, then more time during your commute (car or public transit) and then, when you return to your fortress of solitude, you binge-watch all seasons of I Love Lucy. Before you know it, you are sitting down 90% of the time you are awake.

This is horrendous for your health.

Indeed, research has shown time and time again that excessive sitting can lead to a myriad of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, chronic pain and weak muscles. Essentially, too much sitting, whether it is at your desk or on the sofa, can cause premature death.

Is your early demise inevitable? Not quite, because you still have time to employ a series of physical measures that can offset and even remedy the issues from sitting for a prolonged period of time. We’ve even compiled a list of 14 ways to overcome the harmful effects of sitting at a desk.

Even as you read this, you should be standing at your workstation!

1. Take momentary breathers

It can be easy to get lost in the labyrinth of your work, crushing all your assignments like a paper cup. You arrive at work at 9am and, before you know it, it’s already noon, and you haven’t left your desk. Ouch.

Where was a water cooler break? Where was that moment of breathing?

That is what you need to do, even if it is for a couple of minutes: get up from your desk, walk to the window and just breathe for a few moments. Will this really set you back in your work?

2. Stand while talking on the phone

How often are you on the office landline phone? If the answer is too long, then here is a follow-up question: do you sit or stand while on the phone? If the response is the former, then it is important to remedy this.

Now, you do not need to stand the entire time, but if you know you will be on hold for 10 or 15 minutes, then this is an opportune occasion to stand. Every little bit counts!

3. Walk to your colleagues

Many of us have gotten lazy at the office – you can thank technology for this development!

Instead of walking over to our colleagues to clarify a point, gab about workplace gossip or share a 2,450-page report, we send emails, make phone calls or transmit text messages. It is time to end this nasty habit.

Moving forward, you need to start walking to the next cubicle, even if it’s just a hop, skip and jump away.

4. Adjust your office chair

A simple but effective trick of slightly diminishing the harmful effects of sitting all day is to adjust your office chair. A small adjustment can do wonders for your posture and overall health. So, here are the best ways to sit at a desk:

  • Change the chair height so that your feet are flat on the floor
  • Sit up straight
  • Recline the back of your chair at a 110-degree angle
  • Make your keyboard close to you
  • Adjust your monitor to be in front of you and a couple of inches above eye level
  • Remain an arm’s length away from your computer screen

One more thing: be sure you have an ergonomic office chair.

5. Stretch at lunch

Instead of sitting at a table, on a bench or on a stoop hunched over looking at your phone with your left hand, you should take this time to stretch your body. 

You don’t need to stretch for the entire hour, but you can portion your lunchtime: some stretching, some walking and some breathing.

This is critical for the health of your body. There are even desk yoga exercises you can utilize if you find your lunch or breaks are overly busy.

6. Set a reminder every hour

It can be easy to lose track of time and forget about your goals. We get it: you are ultra-focused on your Flappy Bird game – err, third-quarter earnings report.

An easy hack is to set a reminder on your smartphone every hour – 10am, 11:15am or 2:23pm. Whatever time is suitable for you, be sure to programme it in your mobile device to be reminded that now is the time to breathe.

7. Change your commute

Let’s face it: nobody should ever approach you during your morning or afternoon commute on the bus, tram or train. You are exhausted waking up, and you are exhausted going home.

Like your lunch hour, your commute is a perfect opportunity to prepare your body for the negative effects of sitting for prolonged periods.

So, what can you do? Well, a few things:

  • Stand during your commute
  • Get off a few stops early
  • Walk to either end of the subway platform
  • Catch your bus a couple of stops from your main point of entry

Your commute could be the start of your journey to sitting less.

8. Take the stairs

Ditch the elevator and bypass the escalator – it is time to start taking stairs more often.

Sure, standing in the elevator will not initiate heart palpitations and standing on an escalator will not make you out of breath. Naturally, the stairs are a reasonable alternative that can lead to an improvement, even if they are only a couple of flights of stairs – obviously, the more, the better!

9. Request a standing desk

In today’s work environment, a standing desk is all the rage - it is the main office gadget everyone needs to have. Ostensibly, the only reason why more businesses are not investing in standing desks is the cost: they can set the company back a few thousand dollars.

That said, if you can make the case of how important a standing desk is and you can find the best prices around, then your company – large or small – would be willing to make this investment.

10. Stop slouching at your desk

When your mother told you to stop slouching at the dinner table, she was right. Yet, you resisted – there will always be people who resist good advice, but they pay dearly.

So, how bad is slouching for your health? Well, slouching for hours at a time during most days of the week has been found to cause obesity, type 2 diabetes and even cancer. It is time to stop slouching. But how?

  • Change your leg position
  • Buy an assistive posture device
  • Use Kinesio tape on your shoulders

And, of course, do some office and desk exercises!

11. Refrain from sitting cross-legged

Sitting cross-legged for an extended period of time can lead to a temporary spike in blood pressure and cause long-term poor posture.

You do not have to quit it cold turkey, but it is always a good idea to avoid sitting in any one position for hours at a time. Put simply: regularly change your seated position.

12. Participate in activities outside of work

Let’s be honest: even if you employ multiple tactics at work to sit less, it is crucial to be active outside of office hours.

From playing sports to going to the gym in the early morning or evening, you need to participate in strenuous activities to avoid any long-term danger to your body.

By doing this, you do not have to worry if you miss a workday of stretching every hour for five minutes.

13. Sit on a stability ball

It might garner unwanted attention and even jokes at your expense. Still, a stability ball is an excellent method of improving your posture, burning extra calories, relieving back pain, toning core muscles and encouraging you to stretch and stand.

Of course, you need to ask your boss if this is okay, but if you get the nod, then be sure to purchase one as soon as possible!

14. Squeeze in every moment of standing

Lastly, you must always squeeze in every moment of standing, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. So, what are some tips for standing more? Well, we think you should stand up for this.

  • Stand until your shift starts
  • Encourage your office to hold standing meetings
  • Early to the movies? Stand until there are just a few minutes before the picture begins
  • Make frequent trips to get water (you kill two birds with one stone this way!)
  • Move your trash can away from your desk
  • Go to the bathroom more often, even if it is just to wash your hands
  • Stand anytime someone visits your desk
  • If you can, relocate your workstation to another part of the office

‘Ouch, my back!’

‘Oh, dear God, my shoulders are tense!’

‘For the love of the spaghetti monster, my spine is hurting.’

Our video here also shows how to overcome the negative effects of a desk job, if you prefer to watch along: 

Final thoughts

If these are what you routinely shriek at the office, then it is about time to reduce your seated time. While it can be hard to do if your job requires sitting down in front of a computer, you need to find ways to cope, because sitting long hours most of your workweek can trigger a myriad of health issues.

It’s bad enough that your wrists are hurting from typing all day. The last thing you want is a bad back, horrid posture and constant pain followed by greater bouts of even more pain. It is time to take a stand!

Does your job involve sitting at a desk all day? What do you do to combat the negative effects it has on your health? Share your tips and tricks with us in the comments section below!