Proper posture at work, or in a home office, is a fundamental part for a sustainable healthy lifestyle. Many people are active and healthy in their personal lives, but pay little attention to their health while at work. Desk jobs and our constant use of technology are pulling us forward – but not in a good way. Sitting for prolonged periods causes us to assume a forward head posture and rounded shoulders, referred to as postural kyphosis. In addition to affecting how we look, this can also cause a decreased range of motion in the neck and shoulders, along with numbness, low-back pain, and neck pain. Consequences of poor posture and unsatisfactory ergonomics often lead to the following:
SPINAL DEGENERATION: Simply put, the body is designed to move, not sit. When you are in a seated position you increase the pressure in the lower back by about 1.7 times your body weight. And this is when you sit properly, if you have improper posture the pressure on the spine increases further. The spine is generally strong enough to tolerate bad posture for about 20 minutes before the vertebral discs start to absorb the pressure.
LOWERED METABOLIC RATE: Sitting is the structural equivalent of metabolic syndrome. Prolonged sitting with poor posture has many negative health consequences; it is a modern-day epidemic contributing to the onset of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. While seated, your metabolic rate is likely to plummet, while your cholesterol levels rise.
IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE: Our bodies are not designed for a sedentary lifestyle; in fact, we need movement throughout the day to stay stimulated and function properly. Sedentary lifestyle leading to poor posture is causing millions of people to suffer from chronic low back pain and neck pain, which over time could lead to disability. Even when people go to the gym and work out for an hour a day, they still suffer irreversible damage to their spine and health if they are sedentary at work.
RESPIRATORY DYSFUNCTION: When people are hunched over, their chest and abdomen become constricted leading to decreased lung volume and resulting in shallower, less efficient breathing.
POSTURAL AGING: The greatest consequence of poor posture is pain and mortality. Research indicates that people who present with an increased curve of their thoracic spine have a higher level of mortality. A kypohotic spine is commonly associated with elderly people, however, due to greater levels of inactivity among the younger population thanks to sedentary lifestyles and our addiction to electronic devices, this postural distortion is becoming more prevalent in the younger generations. Poor ergonomic design of your workspace is literally taking years off of your life and accelerating postural aging. As daily levels of activity continue to decline, research suggests that musculoskeletal pain is more common today than it was forty years ago. Consequently, this decrease in physical activity coupled with poor ergonomics and inadequate postural hygiene is a major contributor to the rise in chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and musculoskeletal pain.
Here are 5 things to consider when setting up a healthy and productive workspace:
- KEYBOARD should be placed at elbow height. Utilize a keyboard cushion to support your wrist. Keep wrists in a neutral position and avoid excessive flexion of the wrist. Keep wrist in a neutral position while using the mouse.
- COMPUTER SCREEN should be high enough allowing you to look straight ahead. Avoid looking up or down for prolonged periods of time.
- TELEPHONE HEADSET or SPEAKERPHONE will save your neck.
- POSTURE BREAKS taken every 30 minutes for about 20 seconds to stretch and open your arms and chest allowing your head to fall back as well. If possible take another 30 seconds to get up and walk a few feet before sitting down again.
- STANDING DESK, TREADMILL WORKSTATION or ERGONOMIC CHAIR, no matter which one you use, the ear and shoulder should be in alignment, and the shoulders should be pulled back and not rounded. The shoulders should be aligned over the hips, and the hips should be vertically aligned over the knees and ankles. If you are sitting down, knees and toes should both be pointing forward and you should not cross your legs.