Combating The Effects Of Your Desk, Part 2

Last week, in Part 1, I talked about the physical effects that sitting at a desk has on you.  They aren’t a happy group of effects to behold, but don’t despair!  There are lots of things you can do to help counter what your desk is doing to you.  Today, we’ll start with the easy stuff: things you can do “at your desk.”


Most of the biggest problems caused by your desk are caused by one thing: lack of movement.  This is especially true for the metabolic effects that are really insidious (you know, the ones like 40% increased risk of death).

So, get up and move around!  At least once every one-hour block of desk sitting (preferably every 30 minutes, but I know that’s less feasible), get up and take a walk for a few minutes.  Not only will it help alleviate the metabolic dead-ness you’re causing your body, it will help you re-focus as well.

Improve Your Desk to Improve Your Posture

There are entire articles (and fields of study) devoted to setting up workspaces ergonomically, but I’ll give the brief overview.

  • Adjust your chair height so that your feet are firmly on the ground, and your knees make right angles.  If this isn’t possible, get something to rest your feet on that allows the correct height.
  • Your keyboard and mouse should be placed at a height that allows your arms to hang straight down and your elbows to make right angles when your hands are on the keyboard – generally about 2 inches above your lap.  This is the tricky part, since 99% of the time, desks are way too high for this, and you have to elevate your shoulders and arms to sit on the desk to type.  In that case, use a keyboard tray that hangs under your desk to reach the right level.
  • Elevate your monitor(s) such that the middle of the screen is level with your eyes when your head is straight.  There are stands for this, but fat books (I use Harry Potter) work just as well and are very adjustable.
You’re all set.  Of course, the ultimate solution here is to use a standing desk, which are rapidly becoming more popular for this very reason.  Some even adjust from standing to sitting.  The same rules for keyboard and monitor height still apply to standing desks.
standing desk

Stretch It Out

I know, I know, you can’t do “normal” stretches at work, because you’re wearing office clothes, and your coworkers would look at you funny.  Luckily, there are still some things you can do.
  • The anatomical position stretch – from a standing position with your arms by your sides, rotate your arms so your palms are facing forward.  At the same time, retract and depress your shoulder blades (as if you were trying to put them in your back pockets).  This should create a nice stretch in the chest and shoulder girdle.  I like to do this while I do my hourly walk around the office.

    Anatomical position

    Anatomical position - ignore the labels

  • Desk yoga – I pretty much follow this guide by Yoga guy Rodney Yee.  You will get some odd looks, but it’s worth it.  Your upper body will feel great, and you’ll be counteracting many of the “upper crossed syndrome” postures we talked about last time.
These options are pretty good for loosening the upper-body postural issues we encounter at our desks.  Unfortunately, “office friendly” lower body stretches and mobility exercises are pretty limited, so I’ll cover more of those in my next post.

This Is Only Part Of The Battle

While these tips will help with the postural and metabolic problems caused by sitting at your desk, you’re still going to have a lot of work to do to overcome a lifetime of bad effects.  Next time, I’ll describe an in-depth mobility program for outside of the office which will take you most of the rest of the way.  Stay tuned!