8 Ways to Stay Healthy if You Sit at a Computer All Day, Every Day
Make your desk gig healthier with these tweaks.
Computer work may not be an active job, but it can definitely take a toll on the body. After all, when you sit at a desk for hours on end, you're more likely to experience physical and mental strain. Sitting all day can also set the stage for a sedentary lifestyle, increasing your risk for chronic health issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That doesn't mean you need to ditch your desk job, though. With the following tips, you can work on a computer while staying healthy and well.
Practice good sitting posture.
When you've got emails to read and clients to call, thinking about the way you sit can feel like just another task. But being mindful of your sitting posture can help you feel your best. According to the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, poor posture can strain the muscles and joints, leading to balance issues, fatigue, and back and neck pain. It can also make movement, like exercise and daily activities, downright uncomfortable.
Here's what good sitting posture looks like:
According to the United States Department of Labor, it means keeping your body and spine in a neutral position. Your hands and forearms should be parallel to the floor, while your elbows should be at 90-degree angles, says Alyssa Kuhn, DPT, physical therapist and founder of Keep the Adventure Alive. Keep your head, neck, and torso upright. Place your feet flat on the floor to support your legs, she adds. If your feet don't reach the floor, consider using a footrest.
Invest in ergonomic furniture—or get creative.
If your budget allows for it, invest in ergonomic equipment like a standing desk or a chair with a proper seat cushion and lumbar support. This type of furniture can help you be more aware of your posture, says Kuhn, further preventing pain and discomfort. You can also try ergonomic desk accessories, like cushioned keyboard and mouse pads, to support your wrists.
Another option is to make do with what you have at home. For example, you can always create a makeshift standing desk by placing your laptop on a box on the counter, says Kuhn. To add lumbar support to any chair, "roll up a towel or sweatshirt, [then tuck] it in the nook at the base of the chair," suggests Brittany Ferri, PhD, OTR/L, CPRP, occupational therapist and founder of Simplicity of Health. "This will help support the lower back and rest of the body," she explains. (Here's an exact step-by-step guide for how to do it, and how it helps.) If you're the crafty type, make a DIY wrist rest by sewing two rectangles together and filling it with rice.
Adjust your monitor and screen.
While you're at it, take note of your computer setup. Keep your monitor "directly in your line of eyesight to avoid looking up or down at the screen," recommends Kuhn. This will keep your neck in a neutral position, preventing neck and shoulder strain. As for your eyes? Protect your peepers by reducing screen glare, aka bright spots on the computer screen. According to Ferri, screen glare forces you to squint or rub your eyes to see the screen better, eventually leading to eye strain. To minimize screen glare, use shades or curtains to diffuse light from nearby windows. Remove any overhead lights and dim other light sources, if possible.
Take regular breaks.
According to Kuhn, sitting in the same position for a long time can tighten (or really, shorten) many of your muscles. This can cause pain and tension, making it uncomfortable to move even when you're done working. To prevent this, "try to get up every 20 to 30 minutes to avoid staying in [the same] posture for a prolonged period of time," Kuhn says. For 5 to 10 minutes, walk around, breathe deeply, or do simple stretches like a child's pose. When done on the regular, these activities will help you avoid the sedentary lifestyle that often comes with desk work.
It doesn't hurt that routine breaks are great for your brain, too. They give you a chance to refuel and rest, which keeps you on your A-game. In fact, according to a 2018 study, periodically resting during mentally demanding tasks can help decrease fatigue and cognitive overload, and boost overall performance. (Even better? Take one or more of those short breaks outside.)
Stretch it out.
Desk stretches are key for keeping your muscles healthy and limber throughout the day. For example, let's say your chest muscles are tight due to constantly slumping over. Try a seated lat stretch to loosen things up, suggests Kuhn.
"Put both your hands, outstretched, on your desk and wheel (or scoot) your chair backward," she says. Next, try to push your head through your arms to lengthen your spine and relax your upper body muscles (almost like the top half of a downward dog stretch in yoga—feels amazing, right?).
Reach for healthy, nutritious snacks.
Snacking can keep you satiated between meals, says Valerie Agyeman, R.D., founder of Flourish Heights. It also stabilizes your blood sugar, giving you enough energy to conquer the day, she adds. But remember: Not all snacks are equal. Processed snacks—like chips and packaged pastries—lack the nutrients needed to fuel your body. They're also loaded with unhealthy fats, added sugar, and sodium, all of which are difficult for the body to process. "Think of it like trying to give an electric car gasoline," says Dr. Casey Kelley, M.D., ABoIM, founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health. "The car doesn't know how to process this fuel, [meaning] the car will not get you far!"
Instead, reach for snacks with protein, high-quality fat, and complex carbs, says Dr. Kelley. This combo will provide long-lasting energy, helping you focus throughout the day, she notes. Need inspo? Agyeman recommends trying Greek yogurt with berries and honey or pear slices and peanut butter. You can even curate a mini charcuterie board to make your work day more enjoyable (and 'gram-worthy).
Eat lunch away from your computer.
It's tempting to eat lunch at your desk, especially when you're slammed with work. But in the name of taking regular breaks, it's worth eating lunch away from screens. As Agyeman notes, the practice can help you turn off distractions while savoring every bite. This increases your appreciation for your meal, ultimately helping you feel more satisfied, she adds.
What's more, eating at your desk can lead to mindless eating, says Dr. Kelley. But "by taking time away from work, you allow yourself to focus on your meal, helping you make more informed and healthy food choices."
Drink plenty of fluids too.
Even when you're sitting all day, staying hydrated is crucial. According to Dr. Kelley, "our bodies are 60 to 70 percent water." And, throughout the day, we continuously lose that water via sweating, breathing, and normal bodily functions. Staying hydrated will replenish these lost fluids and prevent dehydration, a condition marked by headaches, fatigue, and poor concentration, says Dr. Kelley.
If staying hydrated feels like a chore, take a tip from Agyeman and set a calendar alert. Another option is to use a reusable water bottle with goal line marks, notes Dr. Kelley. Not a fan of plain ol' water? Sip on coconut water or a smoothie made with hydrating fruits and veggies, like a celery, cucumber and pineapple smoothie.