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Fit in the Office

Sedentary work, especially desk jobs that require long hours by the computer, take their toll and pose considerable health risks. It is easy to get immersed in a project – poring over spreadsheets, writing e-mails, browsing and taking notes – and not even notice that our body is slumped in a chair in the same awkward position for hours. We only register the pain that eventually snaps us out of the stupor. Consciously arranging the work environment, checking our posture and doing a few easy exercises daily could make a world of a difference.

Sitting is the main culprit, cutting the venal circulation in the legs and the pelvis, paving the way for untimely varicose veins, haemorrhoids and even thrombosis. Sedentary work increases the chances of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndromes, such as diabetes and obesity. Spending long hours in front of the screen, we feel tired at first, our neck and shoulder become tense and sore, and it would feel so good to stretch a bit or go for a walk. These are the first signs of discomfort that the body sends to nudge you to get up and move. Ignore it and you will pay dearly. Next time it might be outright pain to spell out the message: something’s wrong. To make it worse, pain usually does not show up where the root cause of the problem is. That searing jab in your shoulder or upper arm is merely a pointer to something out of whack in your neck; the dull aching in your hips actually radiates from your lower back.

Ensuring a healthy posture at the desk is easier than you think. First off, set up your screen at eye level, at a distance of roughly 40-50 cm right in front of you. Make sure your body is centred because a lopsided working position, even a slight turn to the left or right, taxes your spine in the long run, straining the ligaments on one side or squeezing, at worst herniating some of the intervertebral disks. Choose a comfortable chair with good support, adjusting the height so that your legs are at right angle with your thighs, the knees slightly lower than the hips. Try not to tilt your pelvis forward, and maintain a neutral position. 

Expert Advice - Mária Horváth, physiotherapist

Swapping your chair for an exercise ball for just fifteen minutes every hour at your desk has incredible health benefits. Balancing on the ball, you are strengthening your core muscles. Even a simple pillow or bolster on your chair can ease the pain in your lower back. Whatever your seating, aim for a neutral position, because the micro adjustments of constantly tilting the pelvis back and forth on the ball to maintain balance already generously exercises the lower back.

There are a few specific drills to keep you fresh and fit in the office. Stretch in your chair, raising your arms and looking straight ahead or up to the ceiling. Then lean forward in your chair, stretch down and touch the floor, holding the pose for a few seconds. Do head circles carefully not to strain when tilting backwards, and stretch your neck to both sides. Boost the peripheral circulation by pumping your toes regularly, and go for a short walk every two hours. Set a timer on your watch, computer or phone, or use an app to break the monotonous routine; set regular reminders to sit upright.

If your complaints are persistent, consult a physiotherapist, who will show you a daily drill of personalised exercises to keep you fit and healthy in the office, however long you sit.