How to Survive Sitting All Day

Although it’s “just a desk job,” working in an office can wreak absolute havoc on our bodies.

If you’re somebody who spends all day at a desk and computer (which I’m guessing applies to a majority of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion), you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Whether it’s lower back pain, wrist pain, a really tight neck, or a lack of mobility, when we spend all day at a desk to pay the bills, our bodies often get stuck picking up the tab.

What can we do to counteract this office life we have to live?

Although I’ve done some crazy things like exercise around the world, most of my time is spent sitting at a desk for 10+ hours a day, connecting with readers, writing articles, and watching stupid cat videos on YouTube.

I feel like I’ve cracked the code for staying limber despite sitting all day, and I want to share it with my fellow desk-dwellers!

Set your workspace up to succeed

bad monitor desk

If you work a desk job, you probably spend more time at your desk than you do at anything else in your life.

And yet, that time is often spent sitting in a chair that’s too low, with a desk that’s too high, and our necks bent down looking at a screen at an angle that makes us feel like Quasimodo.

That can result in all sorts of nasty stuff, like eyestrain, shoulder pain, back pain, arm pain, wrist pain, and neck pain.

Desk jobs might not seem physically taxing, but they can certainly cause us some physical problems. If you’re going to level up your office life, it’s time to do a desk audit.

So let’s start with setting your desk chair at the proper height so you can type without scrunching your shoulders up. I swear, 90% of desk/chair combos, in offices or in coffee shops have this ratio wrong.

You want to sit in a chair at a height where you can sit with your shoulders relaxed and pulled back, you’re sitting up tall, and your forearms are parallel to the ground or or lower, meaning you don’t need to reach up to your keyboard, nor shrug your shoulders.

I can tell when I work at a desk that’s the wrong height, and you probably can too: my shoulders shrug up, I get tense, and my neck bothers me for the next few days.

So, set your desk at the right height for you!

1. PICK A GREAT CHAIR:

You probably spend more than a third of your existence at a desk chair, so do what you can to make sure you’re setting in a chair that is not destroying your spine!

Last year, in an effort to fix my back issues, I bought a great desk chair (the Herman Miller chair). Honestly, it’s been fantastic, and my back feels great sitting in it for extended periods of time. But, I know it’s incredibly pricey.

You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a great chair (unless you can afford it) – you simply need a chair that has an adjustable height so you can set it so your feet are comfortably on the floor, a solid cushion to sit on, and good lower back support.

If your company supplied you with a crappy office chair, ask for the money to buy a good one (“it’ll improve my productivity!”), and head to an office supply store and try out a bunch of chairs. If they won’t pay for it, consider making the upgrade yourself.

A quick search on Amazon revealed this chair that has the best reviews ever – not bad for $150!

2. SET YOUR MONITOR AND DESKTOP PROPERLY:

If you work with a laptop, you are spending most of your day hunched over a tiny keyboard and trackpad.

Even if you work with a desktop computer, it’s certainly possible the monitor is not high enough for you to be able to not have to tilt your head down to look at it.

You want the height of your monitor to be such that you can look straight ahead and not have to adjust your neck angle to view the screen.

After spending a few years hunched over a laptop, I fixed my posture by adjusting where my eyes have to look by drastically raising the height of my monitors. Just raising my viewing angle was enough to get me to stop slouching, I no longer shrug my shoulders for hours, and my spine/back/shoulders/neck no longer hate me!

You don’t need anything fancy. I even just added some books to get the right height:

Desktop Set up

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to change your setup, and I’ve found that the inexpensive solutions above were well worth the money invested. Feel free to prop your monitor up with whatever you have around.

For laptop users, a separate keyboard and mouse can alleviate a lot of the “cramped” feelings and prevent you from ending up hunched over a laptop.

IF YOU WANT TO REALLY NERD OUT: check out this cool site from Ergotron (note: not a member of the Autobots). Simply put in your height and it can help you determine the height of your chair, keyboard, and monitor.

DeskSetUp

 

Now, if you have Quad Desk, or a Dwight Schrute exercise ball, you will probably have a different set of problems on your hands.

This should get you started with setting your desk up to win. But what about the rest of the day when you’re not sitting?

Staying limber in the office

cat stretch

Along with having a properly constructed office or cubicle, there are a few other things you can do to combat officitis:

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING – don’t stay in the same position for hours upon hours! Studies suggest the best plan for prolonged spinal health is to consistently alter your work environment – move around, stand when possible, sit…just don’t sit in the same position for 8 straight hours!

Set a timer every twenty minutes, and get up and do something! Take a lap around the office, do some shoulder rolls, neck rolls, or twists. I use a program called “focus booster” that pings me every 20 minutes to get up and do something (take a lap around NF HQ – my apartment – or do a quick stretch).

If you have your own office, or you work in a cubicle and don’t mind getting some funny looks, feel free to try some of the following:

The Couch Stretch: because I’m on my ass all day, my hip flexors tend to get tight. So I make sure to do a two minute-couch stretch every single day to help open up my hips:

The Thoracic Bridge Stretch (Hat tip to my buddy James Clear for finding this):

Consider dropping down into a basic body weight Grok Squat:

Own your office space

workspace desk

To answer your final question: you do not NEED a standing desk, even though the internet has a LOT to say about sitting all day.

I often stand when doing basic tasks like checking email or chatting with Team NF, but I really struggle with writing creatively while standing, so I’m almost ALWAYS seated for article writing.

If you ARE interested in a standing desk, we’ve actually already written a whole article about it on Nerd Fitness a few years back, but most of the ergonomic advice from the regular chair carries over.

We are all products of our environment, and by making small subtle changes to our batcaves we can set ourselves up to win.

I’d love to hear from you –

How have you combatted the evil forces of officitis?

How have you altered your working space to set yourself up to be healthy?

-Steve

NF_Logo_Large PS: Speaking of mobility, we just announced Nerd Fitness Yoga coming out later this month! Sign up for updates to get some cool bonuses and be the first to learn more about it!

PPS: How I made it this far without an Office Space reference is mind-boggling. even quoted that movie in my graduation speech. So, here you go: down with TPS reports!

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  • ellegitimate

    unfortunately the chair adjustment thing doesn’t necessarily work if you need your chair at the lowest setting in order for your feet to reach the ground. Any tips for us shorties?

  • Jordan Smith

    Footstool!

  • Frankie

    This is what I use and it works really well (link below)… also using a thera-band frequently during the day helps, as walking more throughout the day helps too.
    http://www.varidesk.com/

  • I see you’re using the Transformers mouse 😛

    Also, Ori and the Blind Forest is amazing! I think Splatoon is my game of the year pick so far, but Ori is awesome as well.

  • Brendan Dillon

    I raised up my desk last Thanksgiving, since then, half a dozen of my coworkers have also elevated their desks and several more are considering it. It’s been great for keeping me more alert and fresh throughout the day.

  • Zarianni

    Your timing on this is spooky. Last night I was looking at exercises and stretches that could be done in a cubicle. Just this morning I propped my monitor up on some books. Love that you had an article about exactly what I needed when I needed it!

  • My back always hurts at work. I just recently got a new chair and it’s helping, but it’s still not the best. I ate lunch outside today and busted out some yoga in the grass… my coworkers were laughing at me, but who cares when it feels so good?!

  • Serena

    Talking on the phone is always done while walking around…walk and talk, baby!

  • Louise Ring

    In denmark there was a campaign called “Beak boogie” (pauseboogie), which was frst and foremost for people with back/neck problems or arthritis, but works great no matter what 🙂 Link is in Danish, but the video gives you the general idea 😉
    http://www.gigtforeningen.dk/om+gigtforeningens+arbejde/kampagner+og+initiativer/pauseboogie

  • Chad Levy

    “[…] you don’t NEED a standing desk […]” I do, and it’s because I didn’t practice good posture and habits for years. Working from home meant sitting upwards of 12 hours at a time. Now I have nerve damage in my left leg, which precludes me from sitting for longer than a few minutes in any chair. Take heed – these aren’t merely suggestions. You can seriously harm yourself not taking posture and good habits seriously.

  • Angie Miller

    Admit what you know is true. You’re more out of shape than you should be.

    If you need to lose weight quickly and actually keep it off, I discovered the 3 Week Diet (go to TINYURL.COM/THEDIET54) on our local news a while back and decided to give it a try! Fat began to fall off in ways I never imagined. I went from almost 200 down to 145 pounds! Get up and do something now so you don’t regret it 21 short days later! If I can do it you can too!

    If you’re a lady out there with fat in those stubborn places, don’t worry there’s a program designed just for you as well! You need to check out The Venus Factor (go to TINYURL.COM/GIRLDIET54 My girlfriends are currently using this diet and it seems to work great for them! It even lets them enjoy their favorite foods. Us women sometimes need help with those places where stubborn fat seems to accumulate! Check it out! I promise you can lose weight, you just have to take action!

    Best of luck,
    Angie

  • WombatThorne

    What if you’re writting in a notebook in class? I bring a pillow to sit on to raise the chair to the right level, but I’m hunch in over a desk writing notes for hours. Any ideas for a mobile workspace?

  • Jonathan Ward

    Depending on your type of workplace you could see about having the desk lowered. My coworker is 4ft 10in…Workplace Services had to lower her desk. It’s not announced that they’ll do it, but typically a talk with a manager will get it done.

  • jonward85

    I agree with previous posters. Your timing with this article is truly spooky. Personally i loved it and it really struck a cord with me. Thanks so much for this one.

  • You have the best job in the world.

    As do I.

    But there are always going to be “desk-heavy” days. Writing, editing, managing, etc.

    On those, I do a 55 minute timer. Work for 55, then stretch, chug a bottle of water, pee for five.

    Success, happiness, productivity is generally directly correlated with number of 55-minute timers I get through.

    Also, I struggled for weeks with my desk chair. Kitchen chair, exercise ball, standing desk — I tried ’em all. Finally, I found a Herman Miller chair, the best as you mention, on craigslist and my home office setup was finally complete.

  • Michael Leonard

    Yeah, that’s a thing…

  • Oh my goodness. Please let it be nerdy yoga!

  • isah maazing

    I switched my desk chair out when I first arrived at my job. I needed a high chair. We had a pull up station at my old office, my new office doesn’t have the proper door frame. Maybe I’ll bring my push up stands. Get the boys in the office moving.

  • a good ergonomic chair and getting up and stretching and just moving for a few minutes can do wonders for those pains.

  • Tim Whalen

    Neal Stephenson wrote a great piece “Arsebestos” about walking desks in his nonfiction book Some Remarks. I haven’t seen it available online so you may have to hit the library. He based the character Skeletor from Reamde on his own experience getting in shape with a walking desk.

  • The Detonator

    In my office, a few of us walk the stairs every hour. It’s surprising how much such a little bit helps.

  • Erin

    In my old job, someone from HR came out and measured us for our desks. They were raised or lowered to meet our specific needs. Now that I am working from home, I am having a hard time adjusting. I have a good office chair, but most often find myself at the kitchen table. Those stretches look like they could help my tight hips! I do have a high countertop that I could probably use as a standing desk, too. Will give it a try!

  • Thank you for this, Steve! I’ve been sitting for quite a few years (college student turned professional writer), and I’ve recently started to feel the aches and pains creeping into my body.

  • Amazing blog, have given me lot of tips on how to survive sitting all day at work 🙂

    I am also a blogger, have written few posts regarding fitness and health, do check http://keepfithealth.blogspot.com

    Good luck!

  • Christina Franken

    Great article! Getting up from time to time – there’s an app for that! ‘Human’ is an iOS app that tracks your daily activity (passively) and reminds you to move when you’ve been sitting too long. Really helpful for nerds like us.

  • Hey Steve,

    Great post, I first got worried about after a gawker article last year talked about how sitting for more than a certain amount of hours a day can actually can kill you, increase rate of heart disease, certain types of cancer etc… You really provided some great solutions.

    One thing that’s been helpful for me is to work while standing on the countertops of my office’s kitchen or my apt. Sounds weird but it’s about the right height for me (i’m 6 ft). You’d surprised where you can find makeshift standing desks if you’re creative.

    I’m gonna tweet this out!

    Best,

    JL

  • John Fawkes

    I had an Ergotron standing desk attachment at my last job. It was amazing. Lets you use your regular desk the normal way or as a standing desk, and alternate between sitting and standing all day, without needing a whole new desk or more space. I lost a little weight with it, but the biggest differences I noticed were more alertness at work, and better sleep.

  • Jen

    Thank you so much for this article!! About 3 months ago I started working from home and my space is so poorly setup, but i didn’t really know how to fix it. I know my back and spine are suffering from it, and now you’ve given me the tools to be proactive about fixing it. 🙂

  • Antonio Stevens

    This article came right on time. Here I am work lower back pain too. Thanks. About to make some adjustments.

  • Ann

    yes – For years I have simply raised my chair to where my forearms are level to the keyboard and then added an appropriate-height foot rest on the floor

  • My desk gradually screwed up my back and neck over the course of about 2 years, never really noticed the discomfort properly until a few months ago. Found a big difference with some morning yoga on work days and standing up to work for 20 mins every hour or so. Some great tips on the monitor and workstation height, going to look at my setup again tomorrow!

  • Sinnah Saint

    You had the perfect oportunity to use “chronic cubical syndrome” and you went with “officitis”?

  • David Stombaugh

    i would really like a good office workout added to this. yes you said get up every 20min and walk and stretch for mobility. but what about keep the muscle we are working to get.

  • Daniel Welstead

    Completely agree. We at http://yogasculpt.co.uk advise similar.

  • Timothy Barber

    For those of us who are privileged to have our own home office to work out of, I have a great website:

    ikeahackers.com

    I went there to find a build plan for a standing desk using almost exclusively pieces of Ikea Furniture cobbled together. I ended up going with this one (I’m 6’4″, so this is a perfect height for me):

    http://www.ikeahackers.net/2011/04/expedit-standing-desk.html

    But there are all sorts of other ones that you can make use of if you want some ideas for how to customize your Batcave to help you level up your fitness.

    Great article as always, Steve! Thanks for talking about this!

  • cgfcpa

    Great article. I switched to a standing desk in December. After I added an anti-fatigue mat I am very happy with the switch. I did not buy a stand up desk. I made my own by putting some Ikea cabinets and a desktop on top of my existing desk. Got the whole thing done for $100. Results are:
    1 – my back feels better
    2 – I do not become a zombie after lunch
    3 – I lost weight the first week. This was not a good thing for me at 5’11” 165.

  • Ravi Gangaraju

    The girlfriend has severe shoulder pain when working at a desk. The pain usually lasts for several days depending on long she works for. She is currently making appointments with her chiropractor and masseuse and it only reduces the pain.

    How do you any tips or recommendation for treatments she could consider?
    Thank
    Ravi G

  • Dave Miller

    Just a tip for everyone struggling with weight issues:

    I lost 18 pounds with this diet program:

    internethealth.org/2015/07/11/how-i-lost-fat-fast-in-3-weeks-with-this-weight-loss-diet

    I hope you guys achieve your goals!

  • Debbie Campbell

    I bought a standing desk a few months ago and also found a great chiropractor who’s helping me un-learn my web devloper-based bad posture habits. I also use Focus Booster (https://www.focusboosterapp.com/) – it’s a good tool for timing breaks throughout the day. My office assistants (two dogs) like to help with moving breaks. Another tool that’s good is the Garmin Vivofit as it shows you when you’ve been still too long.

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  • Carteret Comprehensive Medical

    Having a great chair sure makes a big difference! Sitting down slouching can definitely take it’s toll in regards to back pain. Great read thanks for sharing.

  • Alex Sanchez

    Thank you for sharing this blog about your experience with intermittent lower back pain and how you deal with it, its very educational and i am going to send this information to a friend who seem to be experiencing same degree of pain.

  • Vicky

    Thanks for this article, the moves you suggest are great, really different ! Plus reading through this thread it looks like I’m going to get a lot more info!
    I’ve gone from working full time as a Personal Trainer to working as a writer sat at a desk all day, and let me tell you, the difference is phenomenal! I will certainly be giving all these moves a go in the office and trying to move as much as possible. I’ve found using the desk helpful as well as my office is small, so I try these exercises http://www.sundried.com/blogs/training/75576453-workout-at-work-top-exercises-at-your-desk-to-prevent-health-issues

  • Grace Adato

    Im having serious troubles with shoulder and neck stiffness, I’ve been strength training and spent a good 2 hours using stand up desk but still In a lot of pain today. My monitor might be too high, also cant get chair higher than it already does and I’m short so adding pillow may lift feet off floor. What i havent done is break every 20 min which sounds really scary when i get in the zone

  • Bill Wilson

    Taking care of yourself while at the workplace is always a good idea because it pays off in the long run. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ashleigh Molina

    Tons of great info! Just switched to a desk job and I’ve been trying to plan mobile activities throughout my new work day. I have been including a looot of stretches, so these will be a great addition. Thanks for sharing!

    Ashleigh @ teamnevergoingback.com

  • Adrian Mihai

    A lot of tips on how to survive sitting all day at work.
    I am also a blogger, have written few posts regarding how to choose the best office chair.
    http://www.lifehealthadvisor.com/choose-useful-ergonomic-office-chair/
    Good luck!

  • Marowincyin

    I can attest to the benefits of ergonomic chairs but I don’t think you have to spend that much. For example, something as simple as Isokinetic balance ball chair can cost as little as 80$ but work your spine better than $800 office chair. I think it’s all design and branding basically.

  • People who spend hours in front of a desk are really prone to suffering back pain. And although healthy diet and exercise prove to be some of the best remedies for the pain, we must agree that it also helps to have a working area where you can actually sit and work properly for long hours. At work, one of the biggest investments that employers can make is to really ensure that their employees are doing their work as comfortably as possible. By ensuring that the office chairs aid the posture of their employees, companies also get to show their concern for the welfare of their employees.