5 healthy habits to incorporate while sitting at your desk

Expert advice on how to avoid health issues while sitting. Supplied image

Expert advice on how to avoid health issues while sitting. Supplied image

Published Feb 16, 2024


Scores of people across the globe are confined to their desk for long periods of time during the work day.

But health experts have stressed that this could cause a range of health issues.

This includes healthcare provider Affinity Health, which explained that in a typical office setting many employees are involved in roles that involve computer work, administrative tasks, or meetings.

“But prolonged periods of sitting can take a toll on our physical and mental well-being,” warned Affinity Health CEO Murray Hewlett.

“Sitting for extended periods has been associated with various health risks, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, reduced circulation, and musculoskeletal issues.”

And while many can’t escape “desk duty”, Hewlett has offered these five simple yet effective habits to help you stay active, boost your productivity, and maintain your overall health while working at your desk.

Take regular breaks

The American Heart Association suggests sitting for no more than 30 minutes at a time.

Yet, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that about 85% of the global workforce are employed in jobs requiring them to sit for long periods during the day.

Hewlett recommended standing up and moving around for at least five minutes every hour.

“You can set a timer or use apps to remind you to take breaks.”

He added that during these breaks, stretch your arms, legs and back, and take a short walk around your workspace.

“This will help improve blood flow, reduce muscle tension, and boost energy levels.”

Hewlett also believes that frequent breaks can also enhance focus and concentration, and increase productivity.

Practise good posture

Proper posture prevents back and neck pain that often accompanies desk work, Hewlett said.

To ensure good posture, he recommended:

Align your computer screen at eye level so that you don’t have to look down or up constantly.

Sit flat on the ground with your knees at a 90-degree angle.

Keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and wrists in a neutral position.

Purchase an ergonomic chair that will support your lower back.

Using a lumbar cushion or a rolled-up towel to support the natural curve of your lower back can also promote better posture. Try to sit up straight, and consider adopting posture reminder apps or gadgets that notify you when you slouch.

Dehydration can cause headaches and reduced cognitive function, which can reduce productivity. File image.

Stay hydrated

It is easy to forget to drink enough water when you’re busy working at your desk.

And Hewlett warned that dehydration can cause headaches and reduced cognitive function, which can reduce productivity.

He suggested keeping a reusable water bottle on your desk to develop a healthy habit of staying hydrated.

“Herbal teas and infused water can also be enjoyable alternatives to plain water,” he said.

Incorporate desk exercises

You don’t need to leave your desk to incorporate physical activity into your workday, Hewlett believes.

“Desk exercises can help improve your flexibility and reduce the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.”

Here are some of his simple exercises you can do at your desk:

– Neck stretches: Tilt your head to the left and right, then forward and backwards for 15 to 20 seconds.

– Shoulder rolls: Roll your shoulders backwards and forward to relieve tension.

– Leg lifts: While sitting, lift one leg at a time and hold for a few seconds before lowering it. Repeat this exercise for both legs.

– Seated marches: Sit up straight and lift your knees alternately toward your chest, mimicking a marching motion.

– Desk squats: Stand up from your chair and sit back down without using your hands, engaging your leg muscles.

Plan nutritious meals and snacks

Planning nutritious meals and snacks can help you stay focused and productive throughout the day, Hewlett said.

He suggested avoiding sugary or processed foods that can lead to energy crashes, and to instead opt for balanced meals that include lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Here are some healthy eating habits to keep in mind when working at your desk:

– Eat a healthy breakfast: Eating breakfast before work keeps you full the entire morning and keeps snacking at bay.

– Pack a balanced lunch: Prepare a nutritious lunch the night before to avoid reaching for unhealthy take-out options.

– Snack wisely: Keep healthy snacks like nuts, yoghurt and fruit on hand to satisfy mid-morning or afternoon cravings.

– Drink before you eat: Feeling hungry is frequently caused by your brain misinterpreting thirst, so the next time the office biscuit tin tempts you, drink a glass of water instead.