Tips to Stay Healthy at Your Desk Job
Just because your job requires you to sit at your desk looking at a computer screen for most of the day doesn't mean you should let your mental or physical health fall by the wayside. In fact, if you have a desk job, it's crucial to incorporate a few healthy habits into your workdays to maintain your total well-being.
Get up and move
Sitting still for eight hours a day—aside from the occasional trip to the bathroom—can take a toll over time in the form of aches, pain, fatigue and stress. When you don't give your body a break from sitting hunched at your desk, your joints begin to stiffen and your muscles weaken.
Registered nurse Cathy Trahan said working this way several days a week can cause these adverse effects to bleed into your personal time, too.
"In the short term, if you don't get up and move throughout the workday, the effects could be long lasting and troublesome as you age. However, as soon as you get up and move around, you'll instantly feel better; stiff muscles loosening up and things like that," Trahan said.
Give yourself five minutes every couple of hours to just walk around, stretch your muscles and look at something other than a screen.
If your job involves staying planted in your seat for most of the day, with no time to get up and leave your responsibilities, chances are the work is fast-paced and perhaps stressful at times. This kind of stress often manifests physically in your body as tension held in the back, neck and shoulders, Trahan said.
"When you're caught up in daily tasks, it's easy to not realize that you're tensed up," Trahan added. "A full day of clenched muscles with little to no breaks will make you feel more stressed and fatigued and can lead to stress headaches and general discomfort."
The good news is you can minimize or entirely avoid these problems by carving out a couple of minutes to get up and move around a few times throughout your day. Give yourself five minutes every couple of hours to just walk around, stretch your muscles and look at something other than a screen. These movements will improve your circulation, keep you more energized and give your mind a chance to take a beat.
Keep in mind these brief breaks aren't slacking off, but rather an effective way to take care of your body and reenergize your mind.
Mind your posture
Resist the temptation to slouch or stay hunched over your computer. Poor posture can lead to a litany of serious issues, such as back pain, and skeletal and joint problems.
Besides incorporating more movement and stretching into your day, investing in an office chair with quality lumbar support can go a long way to promote good posture while you're anchored to your desk. You might consider getting a standing desk so you can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day as a way to engage the muscles in the rest of your body and stay mindful of your body position.
"Bad posture is extremely common among office workers and the public in general," Trahan said. "Unfortunately, it's one of those things that often go unnoticed until years afterward, when the damage has been done. Poor posture can snowball into other health issues down the line as well, so taking care to avoid it sooner rather than later is a good idea."
Protect your eyes
Office jobs typically require you to look at computer screens for much of the day, increasing your daily screen time tally, which is likely already high from staring into your cellphone, tablet or TV screen. Research indicates that when using electronics, people tend to blink significantly less, potentially leading to eye strain.
Purnima Patel, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), said the best tip for protecting your eyes is to take frequent breaks.
"This will help make sure you blink, which is your eye's way of getting the moisture it needs," Patel said. "When we're on our screens and not blinking enough, people can experience digital eye strain—a series of symptoms such as dry eyes, headaches, blurry vision or tired eyes."
Patel said the AAO suggests sticking to the 20-20-20 rule.
"Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds," Patel explained.
A popular "solution" people are drawn to is the use of blue-light filtering glasses, which some say can help prevent eye strain. However, the AAO suggests you can skip buying blue-light glasses for now.
"There is no scientific evidence that blue light from our screens is harmful to the eye. Also, there is actually some research that suggests blue-light-blocking glasses are not more effective at alleviating eye strain than clear lenses," Patel said. "Because blue light from our screens is not considered a threat to eye health, the American Academy of Ophthalmology does not recommend blue-light-blocking glasses."
Take time for yourself
While it's true that work is a place for you to be focused and productive, it's also important to take time for yourself to keep motivated and in good spirits. Taking a few minutes to have a friendly chat with a coworker or taking your movement and stretching breaks outside in the sunshine and fresh air can do wonders to make your office life more mentally sustainable.
Another great way to find personal balance at work is to avoid eating lunch at your desk. We've all done it at some point—either the break room is stuffy or crowded or eating at your desk is just the easiest option. But making the effort to eat lunch away from your desk removes the temptation to keep working or looking at your computer during the break.
Changing your environment allows you to truly take a break from work mode and have a few minutes to yourself. This applies even if you work from home—go to a different room or even out on the porch for lunch. You'll likely find this allows you to return to your desk feeling refreshed and in a better mood.