During the COVID-19 crisis, people have come together across the globe to collaborate on the issue of public health and safety. But there’s one element of the COVID-19 lifestyle that’s taking a toll on our long-term health. A recent study published in Psychiatry shows that sedentary behavior has increased as a result of the pandemic, with physical activity seeing a 32% reduction in the most active of participants.
Most of our seated hours are coming from remote working, during which home-bound professionals are using make-shift desk set ups in their living rooms, dining rooms, or kitchens. Even with a designated at-home office, most remote workers haven’t had the time to turn their mind to the ergonomic elements of their station. Without proper posture, seated hours take a larger toll on our physical health. Spending hours in a chair with unevenly distributed seated load and then jumping up to fit a workout in during lunch simply isn’t the answer, and will likely end up doing far more harm than good.
It’s important that HR professionals and team managers prioritize the health of their employees as they work from home. It’s an adjustment that will pay dividends in the future, and it doesn’t have to be a high-cost project. Here are some health promoting strategies to get you started.
Elevate Your Gaze
Keeping steady eye contact through a Zoom meeting isn’t worth that kink in your neck. The easiest way to introduce proper posture habits into your work day is by adjusting the height of your screen and changing the angle at which you’ll hold your gaze throughout the day.
This can be done in a number of low-cost ways. Lowering your desk chair, raising an adjustable desk, or simply placing a sturdy box between your monitor and the surface of your desk can help you find the right height. Ideally, the top of your monitor should fall just below your eye level—any lower and you’ll notice a tendency to over-extend your neck as you read. Laptops make the adjustment a little more complicated. If you’re not working with a monitor set up, invest in a detached keyboard and mouse so your laptop screen can function like a monitor at the proper height.
Raise Your Feet
Don’t wait until the end of the day to take a load off and put your feet up. Often overlooked, your foot positioning through the work day is a main determiner of your posture. Using an elevated surface to support your feet helps to relieve seated load and promote better circulation. This can be in the form of a well-placed box, a couch cushion, or an under-desk footrest. Your thighs should naturally land at a near-90 degree angle when you’re seated in your chair, so the footrest should be adjusted accordingly. In a perfect world, you would use a rocking foot rest in order to infuse some more movement into your day.
We all understand the importance of getting out for a walk around the block. But there are a few exercises you should add to your routine in pursuit of a healthier work day. Eye exercises, for example, are incredibly important when we spend all day looking at a screen, our eyes locked in a single position. Every twenty minutes or so, look out of a window at something more than 20 feet away—a tree line or a mailbox down the road. Then move your eyes in circles to introduce some ocular movement. The same goes for stretching your muscles intentionally after a day at the desk. Your hip flexors and hamstrings have been bunched up all day—it’s worth doing some hip openers before you hit the ground running.
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Better Back Support
When it comes to work day aches, back pain is a popular culprit. Most people believe they need to be sitting at 90 degrees, and they swap between a too-stiff stance and a hunched-over slump. The sweet spot is actually somewhere in between. Ergonomic experts have found that the best way to sit is slightly leaned back, as you might in the driver’s seat of a car. This provides the most support for your lower back. If you don’t have an adjustable office chair at home, you can recreate the posture by adding a pillow or towel behind your back to provide some extra support.
Let There Be Light
Another invisible culprit, improper lighting in your workspace has real consequences. If you can, try spending some time working near a natural light source in your home. Most people say that natural lighting boosts their mood while they’re working, and natural light is easier on your eyes throughout the day. Try to avoid putting your monitor directly in front of a light source, natural or not—that’s the easiest way to get eye strain, and headaches are sure to follow.
Working professionals are busy, and money certainly doesn’t grow on trees during COVID-19. But making a few changes in support of your long-term health doesn’t have to be resource-consuming—a few intentional adaptations can go a long way. By training your posture and infusing more gentle movement into your day, you’ll soon be able to experience the power of the pain-free workday.