Feeling the Effects of Sitting Too Much? Healthy Practices for Your Work Desk

Most jobs today are sedentary desk jobs. While we may not be able to avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time throughout the workday, we can do things to help prevent long-term health risks associated with sedentary activity. Below are some healthy practices for the office.

Positioning yourself within your workspace – computer workstation ergonomics

When you're sitting at your desk, make sure you position yourself in a way that reduces body discomfort or long-term injury. Ergonomics is the science of positioning your equipment and yourself in a way that maximizes safety and effectiveness. If you follow computer workstation ergonomic principles, you will help prevent long-term physical injury induced by repetitive motions overtime such as typing, sitting for hours or viewing computer screens. The BB&T Ergonomics Distance Standard diagram (PDF) shows how to arrange your workspace according to ergonomic principles.

A few quick pointers:

  • Vary your seated posture periodically
  • Don't lean forward
  • Relax your shoulders
  • Position your arms close to your sides
  • Keep your lower back supported
  • Place your feet flat on the floor
  • Keep your head and neck in an upright position, even while on the phone
  • Elbows should be bent 90° while typing
  • Keep your wrists off of the desk while typing
  • Keyboard should be directly in front of the monitor
  • Monitor should be at least an arm's length (20 to 26 inches) away from you
  • Reference document holders should be positioned at the same height and distance as the computer screen and as close to the monitor as possible (not on the desk and/or further away from you than the monitor)
  • When working uninterrupted at the computer for long periods, switch your physical tasks for two to three minutes or take micro breaks every 45 to 60 minutes

Get moving

Try to move whenever you can during the workday. Taking just 10 minutes a day to exercise can make a difference.

Ways to increase your activity:

  • Don't give yourself the opportunity to be inactive. Arrange your workspace in a way that forces you to get up to use certain things such as the phone, printer or stapler. This may be a counterintuitive concept at first, but your health will benefit.
  • Walk up and down the stairs to re-charge.
  • Take the long way to the rest room or to a meeting. Extra steps build up over your career.

Stand up

If you're busy and don't have time for a break at work, try standing instead of sitting whenever you have the chance. Standing up every 45 to 60 minutes at your desk may improve long-term health. Standing uses more muscle than sitting, and the change of position can help relieve any discomfort in your limbs. Ideally, you want to spend 50% of your time standing and 50% of your time sitting. For example, if the circumstance allows:

  • Stand when you're waiting for your food in a cafeteria or restaurant
  • Stand up when you're talking on the phone
  • Have walking meetings or conversations when appropriate
  • Eat lunch standing at a high top table


When you're overloaded with work and barely have a moment to look away from your computer, stretching at your desk is better than doing nothing. Stretching increases blood and oxygen flow to your organs, which is helpful in the moment and in the long run if done regularly.

Remembering to move

Since the effects of our activity level on our health may not be immediate or directly observable, it's easy to forget about being active at work. If you want to turn healthy practices into habits at work, you will need to be proactive. Tips to stay focused:

  • Set a reoccurring calendar reminder to get up occasionally during the day, especially if you tend to get caught up in your work. You can choose the reminder frequency and time that is most reasonable for your schedule and alter it when needed.
  • Find another associate in your office for motivation. If staying active at work slips your mind, someone else is there to remind you to move a bit.
  • Keep the end goal in mind.

It's important to recognize the impact we can have on our long-term health by making simple choices throughout each workday. Through deliberate small actions, we have the ability to contribute to better health and happiness.

Sources: Mayo Clinic; "Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults," by Charles E. Matthews, et al, of the National Cancer Institute; US Department of Labor "Ergonomics" and "Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace"

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