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5 Ways to Make Your Desk a Healthier Place

Help your brain and body with these tips to implement throughout the day.

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Lack of energy. Sitting all day staring at a computer. Slouching. Tight neck and back. Stress. Snacks calling your name. Sound a bit like your day at the office or home office? Not exactly the healthiest of situations, physically or psychologically. And all of that can take a toll on your body—tight hips and hamstrings from prolonged sitting, a disengaged and weak core, chronic dehydration, poor nutrition—that you’ll feel the ill effects of when you try to squeeze in a run.

You may not be able to control too much about your work environment, but you can make some changes at your own desk to lessen the burden. Here are some desk health strategies that can make a big difference:

Get aligned with a DIY ergonomic desk.

A recent ergonomic assessment conducted at the University of Cincinnati found that a large percentage of respondents were working in ill-aligned work stations. Over 40 percent had chairs at the wrong height, 18 percent had chairs with armrests adjusted improperly, 69 percent didn’t use the backrest of their chair, and over 50 percent had computer monitors set up at the wrong height.

The researchers recommend some quick fixes if you’re unable to go out and buy all new ergonomic desk equipment, like using pillows to adjust the height of your seat or elevating a laptop. Move your chair closer to the desk, so you’ll be more likely to use the back rest. Give your computer monitor a boost using a book or two so the top of the screen is at eye height. Add even more books or boxes to create a DIY standing desk.

Lose the chair for at least part of the day.

You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking, contributing to various medical conditions from blood clots to diabetes and joint problems. Even if you exercise every day, sitting for forty hours a week is hard on your body. “The body doesn’t like static postures continually,” says co-author of the University of Cincinnati ergonomic study, Kermit Davis.

Replace some of your sitting with standing or walking a bit while you work. Consider a buying or fashioning a standing desk or going low and kneeling at a coffee table. The researchers on the UC study point out that if you’re unable to put together the ideal ergonomic working space, rotating between ‘poor’ stations is the next best practice.

Or you can practice “active sitting” by utilizing an exercise ball or kneeling chair. Either can improve posture, balance, strength, and even reduce back pain, as it requires the constant engagement of core muscles. Make sure to introduce it in small increments (20 or so minutes at a time) so your body can get used to it and avoid overly fatiguing your muscles. There are even specially designed balance chairs for this purpose.

Other ideas: Pace while talking on the phone. Put the waste basket out of reach so you have to walk to it when you have trash. Go on walking meetings. Regularly increasing blood flow like this can help combat “sitting disease.”

Stretch and re-energize.

The UC researchers recommend taking a break from the desk and screen every 30 minutes to minimize injury to the back. It’s maybe one of the most crucial desk health practices you can implement.

Take a few minutes to work out the kinks and refresh your mind a bit. Take some deep, cleansing breaths and do some stretches at your desk. Tilt your head side to side to get a good neck stretch. Loosen and relax your jaw to prevent tension headaches. Try this shoulder stretch that does wonders before a run and also during a mid-day office break.

You’d be surprised at what a difference this can make.

Stash healthy snacks.

Make a plan for snacking, just like you’d meal prep for the week. Give yourself options that will enhance your health and boost your energy when you’re in that afternoon slump. Some good choices include trail mix, roasted chickpeas, homemade energy bars or bites, string cheese, greek yogurt, baby carrots, and fruit like bananas, apples or even fresh berries. Consider storing your snacks in a break room, lunch room, or kitchen instead of your desk drawer to give yourself another excuse to step away and to prevent mindless snacking.

Make water a desk health priority.

We all do it—get focused on the task at hand and forget about drinking. This can leave you dehydrated, listless, and dull by the end of the day. You’ll feel the affects of being dehydrated when you try to run, but, according to the Sleep Foundation, it can also disrupt your sleep and start the cycle of low energy, listlessness, and compromised performance all over again.

Combat this by deciding to drink a given amount by certain times, like finishing one 32-ounce water bottle before lunch and another before the day ends. If you want to get really fancy, there are smart water bottles that will connect to your phone and remind you to drink. Or apps, like Plant Nanny, that make tracking your water intake fun.