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How To Sit At Your Desk Without Wrecking Your Body

Jonathan FitzGordon
Author: Medical reviewer:
Updated on January 14, 2020
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Medical review by
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who completed her family medicine training at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia.
January 14, 2020

Anything that involves physical effort is exercise. Therefore, sitting and working all day at a computer is exercise. It might not be the most effective way of working out, but it's a form of physical training all the same.

The muscles of the arms are engaged to type and move the mouse. The back muscles are working overtime, especially if our posture isn't optimal. Not sitting well can overwork certain muscles, leading to discomfort and pain and can lead to problems outside the office.

Sure, this might not be the most effective exercise in terms of fitness. However, the more we're aware that every way that we use our body impacts our overall health, the easier it might be to implement some essential changes. They aren’t all that hard to do.

1. Tilt your pelvis forward and arch your lower back.

Sitting, standing and walking all follow similar designs. We need an arch in our lower back. Having the world’s best office chair won’t help if you don’t sit in it correctly. Most chairs have some sort of lumbar support, but we need to sit fully in the chair if we are to take advantage of them. Very often we sit our butt more towards the middle of the seat and round or tuck the pelvis backward. Check in with what you're doing right now as you read this.

2. Sit up tall.

When we first sit in our chairs we probably start off well enough. We lengthen the spine and keep the head on straight. It's just a matter of time — minutes rather than hours — before the upper back begins to round forward into a slumping position.

Sitting up to our full height is easier said than done. It requires good muscle tone in the abdomen and back, which not everyone has. If you lack this type of tone it's impossible for the spine to stay upright. This is your best argument for doing yoga, Pilates or hitting the gym.

3. Keep your feet flat on the floor.

I am a big leg crosser, and I have to fight to keep my right (always my right) foot from crossing my left knee. Keeping the feet flat on the floor helps keep the pelvis balanced and make tip number one easier to achieve. Along with the feet flat on the floor the knees should be slightly below the hips. They don’t have to be far below the hips any degree will suffice.

4. Have a level head.

The height of your chair should allow your gaze to be level with the top third of your monitor. The eyes should look straight ahead and not tilt up or down. Work at keeping your chin parallel to the floor.

Along with a level head try to keep your head back in line with your spine. This connects to the curve in your lumbar back and sits up tall. Without those two essential habits your head is likely to start drifting forward towards your monitor.

5. Get up at regular intervals.

These tips are much easier for someone who is at their desk for shorter periods of time. If you know that you'll be spending the lion’s share of your day at your desk, some tools are essential to take care of yourself.

Get up and do a few simple stretches every hour. Set a timer if need be and maybe walk down and back up a flight of stairs every time it goes off. Keep a tennis ball under your desk and roll it under your foot every hour for half an hour. Basically develop a self-care routine. You could also swap your uncomfortable desk chair for a yoga ball, or opt out of sitting all together with a standing desk.

We're a culture that sits at our desks, and that isn’t likely to change soon. That being said, we might as well make the best of it and do what we can to take care of ourselves while we're there. Sitting well at your workstation can make the rest of your day and night much more pleasant.

Jonathan FitzGordon author page.
Jonathan FitzGordon

JONATHAN FITZGORDON is a yoga teacher and the creator and founder of Core Walking, a program designed to teach a natural walking technique that has been highly successful in alleviating pain, enhancing athletic performance and improving quality of life. His yoga classes and the program are imbued with the love of anatomy and the moving body. Core Walking has been featured in the New York Times and on Good Morning America. You can find Jonathan on his blog, Facebook, and Twitter.