Many people are forced to sit for long periods of time when working throughout the day. But while it’s perfectly comfortable in the moment, sitting for extensive duration (and consistently over the course of years) can ultimately result in extensive long-term damage. People with poor posture, bad furniture, and unbroken sitting habits often end up with chronic pain, back issues, and an increased risk of other health afflictions.
The solution is to think about ergonomics, specifically as they relate to your musculoskeletal health. With the right products, habits, and strategies, you can prevent this long-term damage from accumulating, and make yourself healthier, happier, and more productive in the meantime.
Why Is Sitting So Problematic?
It may seem like sitting is an innocent activity that couldn’t possibly harm you–after all, it’s a position many of us find comfortable. But there are several factors that make sitting an issue if you engage in it for prolonged periods of time. After just a few minutes of sitting, your metabolism slows down, reducing the number of calories you burn. Not long after that, your glucose uptake declines, which can eventually result in a higher risk for type-2 diabetes.
After several days of sitting for many hours a day, you’ll see a spike in your LDL (or “bad” cholesterol), and your insulin resistance will increase. These effects are compounded if you don’t make time to regularly exercise.
But the real problems begin to set in over the long term–after many months, or even years of sitting for many hours a day. Over the long term, most people gain weight, increase their risk of heart disease and diabetes, and can lose up to one percent of their body mass per year. On top of that, bad posture has a compounding effect on your bones and muscles; if you sit with poor posture habitually, you can put excessive strain on your musculoskeletal system.
Investing in the Right Furniture
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to invest in the right furniture. Your choice in furniture will naturally guide your posture, and provide you with both support and comfort so you can remain in a good position throughout the day.
When buying ergonomic furniture, you’ll need to consider:
The brand. First, it’s important to buy furniture from a brand you genuinely trust. There are countless ergonomic chair options, but only some of them come from trustworthy sources. Do your research, look at reviews and testimonials, and only move forward if you’re sure a given source can provide you with the right support and quality.
The size/fit. Next, you’ll need to think about the size and fit. The best piece of ergonomic furniture will be custom-fitted to your height, weight, and other physical needs. Fortunately, most modern ergonomic chairs are customizable, allowing you to fine-tune them to your personal needs. For desks, you’ll need to take more precise measurements before buying.
The personal comfort. While ergonomic designs can make furniture much better suited to the general population, it’s important not to undermine the impact of personal preference. Different people will prefer different levels of firmness, support, and different types of structures and materials. Make sure you experiment with different options before you make your final purchase.
Better-designed, better-made furniture tends to be more expensive than other varieties, and understandably so. Make sure you dedicate a decent amount of your budget to investing in high-quality furniture.
Adjusting Your Posture
Even with the right ergonomic furniture to support you during the workday, it’s important to carry the right posture. With proper posture, you’ll be better able to support your body weight, and prevent injuries to your musculoskeletal system. This typically means sitting up straight with your shoulders back, looking directly ahead. Your arms and shoulders should not be strained.
If you’re used to sitting with poor posture, it may be tough to retrain your body. Set a recurring timer to alert you at periodic intervals; whenever you hear an alarm, check your posture and correct it if necessary. Eventually, good posture will begin to come naturally to you.
Improving your posture is a good thing, but it won’t completely undo the risks of persistent sitting. If you want to mitigate these risks and improve your physical health, you’ll want to take breaks throughout the day. These are some of the best options:
Exercise. If you want to take a longer break from sitting, consider getting in some exercise. Depending on your access and personal preferences, you might lift weights, do cardio, or even practice yoga. Any way you get your body moving and physically challenge yourself is a good thing for your health. Try to exercise at least once per day.
Walk Around the Office. If you can’t squeeze in a full routine, consider just walking around your office (or your home). A few minutes is all it takes to get your blood circulating and combat the effects of sitting. Try to do this several times per day to break up your work schedule.
Stretch. It’s also effective (and convenient) to periodically stretch. Try to stretch your entire body, one section at a time, even if you’re just standing at your desk. Again, try to do this several times per day.
Stand. Lately, standing desks have become fashionable, due to their ability to support a working posture that eliminates sitting altogether. Some studies have suggested that standing is better than sitting for an extended period of time, but standing up all day every day also has disadvantages for your health. The best approach is probably to alternate between sitting and standing, so you can escape the worst negative effects of both.
With better furniture, better posture, and a commitment to taking more breaks, you’ll be able to reduce your risk of physical injury and chronic pain. In the meantime, you’ll likely feel more comfortable, more confident, and more productive.