Anyone who's ever been out West has probably heard the term "be bear aware." Well, in the office, you need to "be body aware." Posture plays a huge part in how a person will feel at the end of a long day at the office. Those with poor sitting posture are at a much higher risk for developing office-related health conditions such as sciatica, back or neck pain, poor circulation, high blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, and so many others. Paying close attention to how your everyday movements could be affecting your work routine is a critical first step in a healthier work life.
Use this guide to assess your sitting habits to make sure you aren't putting yourself at risk:
Sit at your desk as you normally would. Ask yourself these questions.
"Are you sitting up straight? Is the back of your chair closely aligned with your back? Do you have lumbar support? Is your spine in a natural S-shape? Are you facing straight forward (not turning your head to the side) to view a computer screen? Do I sit like this for most of the day?"
If not, your posture could be having a negative impact on your health.
Recognize Good Posture
The first key to practicing good sitting posture is learning to recognize it. Experts agree that seated individuals benefit the most from keeping their joints in a series of 90 degree angles. Start with healthy ergonomic office chairs as a base, since they offer the most adaptability for different workplace environments, body types, and previous health conditions. Once you've got the chair, check to make sure you meet these requirements of ideal seated posture:
Sit up straight, upper arms parallel to the spine.
Face forward, with the head kept naturally and straight ahead as if you were balancing books on it.
Bend elbows and knees at 90 degree angles.
Keep palms flat and face down, parallel to the forearms.
Keep feet flat on the ground.
Back in the day, royalty and the well-to-do were trained to keep proper posture by tying their upper bodies to chairs and balancing books on their heads. All this was done to encourage the spine to stay natural and upright. At work, sit up straight, with upper arms parallel to your spine. The back of your office chair should touch most of your lower, middle, and upper back. If the chair does not gently cradle the natural S-curve of your spine, you may need to make adjustments to seat height, back height, tilt, or the lumbar of your chair.
If you use a computer, look straight ahead - if the screen isn't there, either the computer or your whole body needs to move. Constantly turning one's head to view a computer screen can cause neck and upper back pain caused by distorted muscles. Adding flexible monitor arms to your workstation allows users to adjust a computer screen so it sits right in front of them - at eye level, about arm's length away from the face - properly.
Chair height is hugely important for a healthful office lifestyle. Thankfully, many ergonomic chairs offer chair height adjustability as a standard feature. Seat height and back height are other advanced features that may also appear on ergonomic chairs. Ideally, a chair's height should be in-line with both your body and the height of your workstation. The health of your body comes first though, so sit upright in your chair. You can determine if your chair is at the proper height by ensuring your feet are flat on the floor, with knees bent at 90-degree angles. If your feet dangle, it weighs down on your knees, cutting off the blood supply, which is one reason why many seated office workers experience leg pain after a long day of sitting.
* Hint: The height adjustment feature on most height adjustable desk chairs is typically located just under the seat in the form of a lever or knob.
An Arm and A Leg
Keeping the body's major joints kept at 90-degree angels is one of the coups to maintaining proper seated health. Feet flat on the floor and knees bent at 90-degrees is the ideal way to determine proper chair height. Once this is done, turn your attention to the desk. Ideal desk height is determined by keeping the elbows bent at 90-degrees in an office chair. Extend your hands, flat and palm down, so they are parallel with your forearms - if you're a typer, this is where your keyboard needs to be. If you write more, this is where the surface of your desk needs to be.
* Note: After adjusting the desk height according to arm level, if your computer screen comes up short, monitor arms can make up the difference. If you can't afford a monitor arm, add office foot rests or boosters can keep your feet flat so you can raise the height of your chair to meet your desk.
... And A Hand in the Right Direction!
It is critical that users don't bend their hands and forearms up or down in order to perform daily office functions such as typing or writing. Bending the hands up or down can diminish proper blood flow, aggravating the symptoms of arthritis and carpal tunnel. For those of you whose office desks and workstations may sit too high, adding retractable keyboard trays is a great solution. Mount one under the desk and angle it too your needs for the healthiest results!
Think Outside the Cubicle
One alternative to the typical office setup is to include ergonomic workstations, so users can choose to sit or stand. Alternating between seated and standing positions is the most healthful office work style because it keeps users active and allows them to take all the benefits of standing (as the body's most healthful posture), and combine it with the benefits of seated breaks (to give the legs a rest). Standing at work reportedly improves energy and focus, and also keeps users trim!
Staying fit is a big part of improving posture as strong abdominal muscles are the key to proper spinal support during seated positions. Work out, stretch, and focusing attention on developing those abs - and you will be living a healthy office life in no time!