2
MIN READ
Sitting is the new smoking: How to improve your workspace ergonomics
Helpful changes to our workspace can be pretty simple.
Written by
Dan Cable
Medically reviewed by
Dan Cable
Last updated
July 10, 2024

Office work might seem low-strain compared to being on a worksite but prolonged sitting puts significant strain on our lower back and the sedentary health risks have been likened to smoking.

The strain of sitting

Prolonged sitting increases intradiscal pressure and is a key cause of lower back pain [1].

As we change from standing to sitting, the top of the pelvis rotates backwards and flattens the lumbar curve which is functionally important in maintaining overall spinal health [2].

There are a range of direct and indirect impacts from our workstation ergonomics:

Musculoskeletal disorders

Prolonged poor positioning and posture can lead to back pain, neck pain, shoulder injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome [3].

Vision issues

Reductions in rates of eye strain, dryness and computer vision syndrome, characterised by headaches and blurred vision [4].

Productivity

Being comfortable makes us more focused and efficient [4].

Wellbeing

Workspace adjustability is linked to positive perceptions of the psychosocial work environment and job satisfaction [5].

Ergonomic workspace design 

The changes to our workspace can be pretty simple and inexpensive to unlock these long-term benefits.

Posture

Find a comfortable working posture where your joints are naturally aligned. Neutral positions reduce strain on muscles, tendons and the skeletal system.

Sit-stand desk

Try doing some of your tasks while standing to avoid spending prolonged time in the same position. When standing the locus coeruleus neurons are thought to be more active which play an important role in attention, memory and learning [6].

Chair

Use a chair that supports the lower back. Adjust it so your feet rest flat on the floor, and your knees are at hip level [7].

Desk

Position your monitor at eye level about 40-75cm away from your face. The keyboard should be at a height that allows your forearms to be parallel to the floor.

Lighting

Ensure proper lighting to reduce glare on the screen, and use anti-glare screen filters if necessary.

Take short breaks, regularly

Stand up and move around every 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Posture-correcting shirts

Some people find benefit from wearing posture-correcting shirts as a cue to maintain a neutral position but strong evidence is lacking [8][9][10].

Regardless of how much effort we put into ergonomics, prolonged sitting in the same position without active breaks should be avoided given the cardiometabolic health risks of a sedentary lifestyle [11].

I personally use a standing desk in the office and break up the day with walking meetings for sunlight and movement. Still, I must admit that my home setup is pretty terrible and I have the occasional bad habit of working from the couch.

I’ve recently discovered that some podcasters record episodes in Zone 1-2 on an exercise bike. This could be a nice addition to an office workstation.

This post contains general information about health and wellness practices. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be treated as such. Please consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new health regimen. This information is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.

Office work might seem low-strain compared to being on a worksite but prolonged sitting puts significant strain on our lower back and the sedentary health risks have been likened to smoking.

The strain of sitting

Prolonged sitting increases intradiscal pressure and is a key cause of lower back pain [1].

As we change from standing to sitting, the top of the pelvis rotates backwards and flattens the lumbar curve which is functionally important in maintaining overall spinal health [2].

There are a range of direct and indirect impacts from our workstation ergonomics:

Musculoskeletal disorders

Prolonged poor positioning and posture can lead to back pain, neck pain, shoulder injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome [3].

Vision issues

Reductions in rates of eye strain, dryness and computer vision syndrome, characterised by headaches and blurred vision [4].

Productivity

Being comfortable makes us more focused and efficient [4].

Wellbeing

Workspace adjustability is linked to positive perceptions of the psychosocial work environment and job satisfaction [5].

Ergonomic workspace design 

The changes to our workspace can be pretty simple and inexpensive to unlock these long-term benefits.

Posture

Find a comfortable working posture where your joints are naturally aligned. Neutral positions reduce strain on muscles, tendons and the skeletal system.

Sit-stand desk

Try doing some of your tasks while standing to avoid spending prolonged time in the same position. When standing the locus coeruleus neurons are thought to be more active which play an important role in attention, memory and learning [6].

Chair

Use a chair that supports the lower back. Adjust it so your feet rest flat on the floor, and your knees are at hip level [7].

Desk

Position your monitor at eye level about 40-75cm away from your face. The keyboard should be at a height that allows your forearms to be parallel to the floor.

Lighting

Ensure proper lighting to reduce glare on the screen, and use anti-glare screen filters if necessary.

Take short breaks, regularly

Stand up and move around every 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Posture-correcting shirts

Some people find benefit from wearing posture-correcting shirts as a cue to maintain a neutral position but strong evidence is lacking [8][9][10].

Regardless of how much effort we put into ergonomics, prolonged sitting in the same position without active breaks should be avoided given the cardiometabolic health risks of a sedentary lifestyle [11].

I personally use a standing desk in the office and break up the day with walking meetings for sunlight and movement. Still, I must admit that my home setup is pretty terrible and I have the occasional bad habit of working from the couch.

I’ve recently discovered that some podcasters record episodes in Zone 1-2 on an exercise bike. This could be a nice addition to an office workstation.

This post contains general information about health and wellness practices. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be treated as such. Please consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new health regimen. This information is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.

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