Just over a year since the first lockdown, the nation is facing another health pandemic – sitting for too long. It’s increasingly believed to be detrimental to our health, slowing down the metabolism and causing musculoskeletal issues.
Whilst many of us were arguably been sitting down for large periods of time at work long before lockdown, many would have been doing so in more supportive chairs at more suitable desks, as some with limited options at home made do with coffee tables or kitchen worktops. We’re also likely to spend more time moving around in the office than at home, heading over to the water cooler, or to colleagues’ desks to discuss projects.
However long COVID restrictions last, it’s clear remote working will be a big part of the future for many businesses, so having the right home set-up is really important. Within just two weeks of the first lockdown in 2020, the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) Working from Home Wellbeing Survey revealed that more than half of respondents were suffering from new aches and pains in their neck (58%), shoulders (56%) and back (55%).
There are also some less obvious impacts from sitting too much. Here are some of the signs to look out for and what to do about it:
Neck, back and shoulder problems
Poor posture and hunching of the spine can cause numerous musculoskeletal issues, so with hundreds of thousands of people sitting for eight or nine hours a day, at an inappropriate workstation, staring at a screen, it’s no wonder so many of us are complaining of back ache or a stiff neck.
Sitting in the same position for too long can result in the spine becoming weak, which increases the risk for herniated disks. Moving the spine frequently is healthier, allowing the soft discs between the vertebrae to expand and contract, and the blood and nutrients to flow.
Exercising in your lunch break can help prevent pain from developing, as can changing your work position between sitting and standing. Making an effort to add a few stretches into your day is also really beneficial to help loosen up the muscles.
Perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when you consider the detrimental effects of sitting for too long, but more frequent digestive issues could be a sign of spending too long at your desk. Within even the daily commute a thing of the past, and no real need to head out on our lunch breaks in search of a sandwich, we’re becoming even more sedentary, which isn’t good for digestion.
In turn, this can lead to weight gain and further health complications such as heart problems or diabetes.
Replacing your commuting time with a workout, or going for a short walk after lunch can aid digestion, so try and make a routine of doing this.
Repetitive strain injuries
Conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, which are common for those with desk jobs, are now being exacerbated by the fact that most people’s home set up is less than ideal.
To avoid putting unnecessary strain on the neck and joints it’s important to make sure workstations are set up correctly, with supportive chairs and keyboards and screens at the correct height. Resting wrists on an ergonomic support can also prevent problems.
Height adjustable desks are also a good way to avoid repetitive strain injuries, allowing you to adjust your workstation regularly to keep your body moving.
This is another one you might not associate with sitting for too long (especially as most of us would probably tell someone suffering with a headache to “go and sit down for a bit”). However, sitting down for prolonged periods of time can have a really negative impact on those who suffer from headaches and migraines, with poor posture leading to tension in the upper back, neck and shoulders, before resulting in a headache.
Alternating between sitting and standing can help to break things up, and getting away from your desk on your lunch hour too not only gets you up and about, but gets you away from your screen, which can also cause headaches.
In the first lockdown, the press was filled with stories about how the pandemic had zapped us of energy, leaving many of us tired and fatigued despite leading much less busy lives than we were used to. Undoubtedly the stress and uncertainty of the situation played a big part in this, but actually working from home may have contributed as well.
Spending so much time indoors, and the majority of that in front of a computer means we are more sedentary than ever, and when you aren’t moving, your circulation slows down, leaving you with a tired, sluggish feeling. It’s true that the more energy you use, the more you have, so why not schedule a few exercise breaks into your day?
When we first left the office, the focus for many businesses was very much on productivity; ensuring an employee’s ability to still work effectively from home. However, this priority needs to shift to wellbeing, making an effort to stay active and ensuring our office set-ups are conducive to good physical and mental health.
Rick Milford is director of HADO, who specialise in height adjustable desks.