My past few posts have gone into quite a lot of detail about the pros and cons of sitting and standing while at work, and the benefits of stretching.
If you haven’t had time to read them yet (Really? You don't know what you're missing!), or if it's too much to remember, then a quick recap follows. For more details on each of these topics, the posts on sitting, standing, essential stretches, and upper limb stretches can all be found in the archives.
1 Can lead to all sorts of bad things, health-wise. We need to break the habit of long periods sitting at a desk.
2 Mini-breaks are a good thing. Every half an hour or so is ideal.
3 Get up out of your chair and put the kettle on, print a document or do a little dance*, but always STRETCH.
4 Try to reduce the overall time you spend sitting each day, perhaps by trying a standing desk for some of the time.
1 A popular alternative, the standing desk is gaining popularity.
2 Standing is much better for you than sitting as you will move more, and this brings lots of positive health benefits.**
3 Make sure your workstation is correctly set up and that you have a good surface to stand on (an anti-fatigue mat is a must).
4 Build up gradually. Don’t expect to be able to stand all day. Few people do.
1 Stretching should be an integral part of your working day.
2 It maintains flexibility and joint range of motion, and improves your circulation.
3 Do a few stretches each time you have a mini-break. Several short sessions will keep the stiffness at bay.
4 Mix it up. Don’t go through the same old routine each time. There are a few staples that you’ll want to keep in (back extensions and chest stretches, for example), but otherwise add variety and give a different part of your body a bit of TLC each time.
*this blog does not endorse any specific dance genre. Disco, hip-hop, street, line-dancing, thrash metal, Argentinian tango - whatever gets you shaking your thang is fine by me.
**including burning more calories which, for many people, can lead to wanting to eat more chocolate.
How have you got on with my suggestions? Have you made changes to your workstation, or tried any of the stretches I've outlined? I'd love to have some feedback about your progress, or even about any barriers you've encountered when trying to make changes.
If you're not careful, spending large parts of your day using a keyboard and mouse can lead to work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs).
In conjunction with other strategies, stretching the correct soft tissues can help to reduce the risk of developing these debilitating conditions and to ease the symptoms if they are already present.
Let's take a quick look at these three conditions before going through the stretches which can help.
REPETITIVE STRAIN INJURY
As the name suggests, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is caused by frequent, repetitive movements of a specific part of the body. As an editor or proofreader (or, of course, any other computer user who may be visiting this blog - welcome!) this will commonly be keyboard and mouse use affecting the muscles and tendons of the forearms, wrists and hands. A reliable source of health information is the website www.patient.co.uk, which has a very clear factsheet explaining RSI in more detail. Typical symptoms include sharp pains or dull aches, tingling, and numbness in the affected soft tissues.
CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is more specific than RSI, and refers to the group of symptoms caused by pressure on the median nerve where it passes through the carpal tunnel at the wrist.
Other signs can include aching and discomfort in the arm, loss of sensitivity to touch, and wasting of the muscles at the base of the thumb.
There are specific tests which your doctor or physiotherapist can use to help diagnose CTS, but sometimes Nerve Conduction Studies will be needed to confirm this.
Tennis Elbow (or lateral epicondylitis to give it its Sunday name) is characterised by localised pain and tenderness around the outside of the elbow.
Overuse of the forearm extensor muscles, which lift the fingers and thumb, can cause microscopic tears of their common tendon where it inserts into the bone at the outer elbow, leading to painful inflammation and microscopic scarring of the tissues.
STRETCHES FOR THE ARMS AND HANDS
There are a few very simple stretches which, if done regularly, can help to reduce your risk of developing work-related upper limb disorders.
Although it might look a lot, it will only take you 3-4 minutes to work through all of the following stretches.
THE FOREARM EXTENSORS
THE FOREARM FLEXORS
It only takes a minute or two to run through some exercises to keep your fingers in tip-top condition, putting your joints through their full range of movement to keep them flexible and well-lubricated, and giving the soft tissues a workout through their full range too.
It takes longer to describe these exercises than to do them, so here are some nice clear pictures from the Mayo Foundation to show you what to do.
Try doing 5-10 of each of these finger exercises in quick succession.
SOME IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER
You've made it! Thanks for reading this far - I hope you've found it useful. Once again, do let me know in the comments how you get on with these stretches. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
Disclaimer: this blog is for general information only, and should not be regarded as specific advice. If you are pregnant or suffer from a physical condition which could be aggravated by these stretches, please consult your doctor, physiotherapist or other healthcare professional for specific advice tailored to your individual needs.
I’ve already talked about the importance of getting up out of our chairs and moving, and the benefits of standing, so now I think we should focus on what we can do when we have that mini-break.
1 It increases flexibility of the muscles which get stiff and tight from limited repetitive movements or no movement at all.
2 It improves joint range of motion. Most joints in the body are synovial joints, which means they are surrounded by a joint capsule and bathed in synovial fluid. This fluid contains the nutrients needed to keep the joint surfaces lubricated and healthy, but regular, good range of movement is needed to push the nutrients from the fluid into the cartilage which forms the joint surfaces. Less movement equals a less healthy joint.
3 It improves your circulation. Large, controlled movements will get your blood pumping around the whole body, including your brain. This will energise you and help boost your focus and concentration levels.
There are dozens of stretches which you can do to keep your joints and soft tissues flexible, some quite complicated and advanced. But let's keep it simple and look at three straightforward, easy stretches. If you're not stretching during your working day at the moment, why not try these during your mini-breaks? (You ARE taking mini-breaks, aren't you?)
1 LOWER BACK
Back extension exercises help to counteract the negative effects of sitting. If you’ve gradually slid from an ergonomically correct position to one which resembles the Hunchback of Nôtre Dame over a period of an hour, then it’s time to get up and reverse the process.
The forward head position is probably the most common postural fault that happens when sitting at a desk. This happens when we spend too much time focusing on a screen or paperwork without a break.
Your chin pokes forward and the muscles at the back of your neck become short and tight. Over time, if uncorrected, there will be permanent changes in the soft tissues which make it difficult to achieve a good, neutral head position.
Simple chin tuck exercises (retractions to give them their correct name) are an easy way to reverse the gradual slide into a forward head position and avoid the potentially damaging changes which can occur.
Using a keyboard or writing for long periods leads to a rounded shoulder position. If they aren't stretched regularly, the muscles of the chest and anterior shoulder become shortened and tight, and the muscles of the upper back, around the scapula, become long and weak. If uncorrected, this muscle imbalance can lead to all sorts of chronic problems.
Stretching the chest should be a key part of your daily routine. It improves your posture, and you'll feel GREAT!
As I've already said, there are many stretches and many ways of doing them, but I think these three are a good starting point. I'll introduce stretches for your arms and hands in my next post but, for now, why not try these on a regular basis this week and see how it feels? Let me know how you get on - I'd love to hear your feedback. Until next time!
Disclaimer: this blog is for general information only, and should not be regarded as specific advice. If you are pregnant, significantly overweight or suffer from a physical condition which could be aggravated by these stretches, please consult your doctor, physiotherapist or other health care professional for specific advice tailored to your individual needs.
In my last post, 'Sitting is the new smoking', we established that movement should be an essential part of your daily work routine, and that sitting is now widely regarded as one of the seven deadly sins when it comes to your health.
Now let's have a look at a way we can avoid sitting while still managing to work. Standing has become an increasingly popular trend in working practices over the last few years. There has been a lot of discussion around the topic on various editors' blogs, Facebook pages and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders members' forums over the past few weeks. However, I think we can bear another post on standing at work, as it is an important issue and worth thinking carefully about.
Before we delve into specifics, are there any benefits to standing over sitting? Surely we’re just as stuck, but in a vertical position?
Here are the main positives:
So there are definite physiological benefits to getting up off your chair, but how should you put this into practice?
So with that in mind, there are a few things you should consider if you do decide to try a standing desk:
1. Experiment with a temporary set-up before investing too much time and money, Use shelving or boxes to raise your desk height to one that suits you when standing - it should be level with, or slightly below, your forearms when your elbows are bent to 90 degrees. If it's too high your shoulders will be raised, leading to increased tension in your upper back and neck muscles, which can cause neck and shoulder pain and headaches. The same points we consider for our desk set-up when sitting also apply when standing - make sure the screen and keyboard are both in the correct position or you will strain your neck muscles.
2. Start gradually. Just as you wouldn't step out your front door and try to run a marathon (unless you're this guy), so you shouldn't attempt to switch over to standing for several hours at a time without building up to it.
3. Expect it to hurt a bit initially. You are asking your body to do something new, and it will take time to feel comfortable with it. Remember the day after your first Zumba class? Same thing. Sore feet, aching calves and knees, and twinges in the back and neck can all result from even a modest increase in the time you spend standing.
4. Look after your feet. Use an anti-fatigue gel standing mat for comfort and support. Here is one example. There are plenty of options online (but some are a bit, erm, industrial in style!). Devotees of the standing desk agree that this is probably the most important accessory you should have.
5. A small footrest can be helpful to vary your position while standing - raising the position of one foot can reduce strain on the lumbar spine.
6. Your posture is every bit as important when you're standing as it is when you're sitting. Avoid taking too much weight on one leg, throwing your hip out to the side and 'hanging' there, and either slouching or hyperextending your lumbar spine. Learn to engage your core muscles to support your lumbar spine and you will notice a marked improvement in your standing posture.
7. Consider a compromise. It may be impractical for you to switch entirely to a standing desk set-up, and you may not have the luxury of enough space to have both seated and standing options in your office. Adjustable desks which can easily be raised or lowered as you prefer during your workday (using either a hand crank or an electric system) can be expensive. So perhaps a standing desk which also has a high seat for when you'd like to rest your legs is an answer you could consider. Again, try it first. Use a raised breakfast bar style seat with your temporary set-up to see whether it's something you would want to work with.
8. How long is too long? There is no hard-and-fast figure for how long we should aim to stand each day. This is as individual as you are, and it isn't a competition! I would suggest starting with short sessions of 30 minutes or so to test the water, and gradually build up from there to what is comfortable for you. If you can manage to stand for your entire working day then good for you, but for many people that won't be achievable (or desirable).
Remember, the point of standing is to reduce your sitting time to improve your health, so even short periods during the day will be of benefit to you.
I think it's clear that incorporating standing into our working day has many positives, so why not try it? Just bear in mind the suggestions I've made, and be body aware.
In my next post, I'll look at three stretches we should be doing at work, whether we're sitting or standing, and why we should be doing them. Thanks for reading, speak to you soon!
Have you tried a standing desk? I'm curious to know how editors and proofreaders in particular fare with this, so I'd love it if you could take the time to share your experiences with me in the comments below.
Disclaimer: this blog is for general information only, and should not be regarded as specific advice. If you are pregnant, significantly overweight or suffer from a physical condition that may be aggravated by standing, please consult your doctor, physiotherapist or other health care professional for specific advice tailored to your individual needs.
"Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death."
This bold statement, in an interview given in July of this year by Dr James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic Obesity Solutions Initiative at Arizona State University, gained a lot of media coverage, and not without good reason. Much as society gradually came around to the idea that cigarettes were not actually ‘a good thing’, over the past few years we have come to realise the hidden dangers of the office chair and the sofa. However, it was Dr Levine who drew the comparison with smoking in an attempt to underline the seriousness of the situation.
Increased risk of heart disease, some cancers, obesity, type 2 diabetes, reduced muscle flexibility and depression have all been linked to a sedentary lifestyle, something which is all but impossible to avoid when you work as a proofreader or editor (or indeed, at any desk-based job).
One of the marked differences in my daily routine when I became a proofreader was the dramatic change in my activity levels. Working in a busy NHS hospital as a physiotherapist meant that I was on the go pretty much all day: standing, walking, running about and generally keeping on the move. Sitting down was a minority activity usually reserved for lunch and (sometimes) a tea break.
Overnight, I found myself spending hours and hours sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen, stuck in one position. The protesting of my joints and muscles when I eventually remembered to get up was quite a shock. For years I had advocated regular breaks to the many hundreds of office workers who had – quite literally – passed through my hands with musculoskeletal problems caused by poor posture and poor working practices. Now I faced the reality of how difficult taking regular breaks can be, and I had to start practising what I preached.
At the most basic level, and if you do nothing else, the simple answer is to move more. But, as Dr Levine says,
“On one hand, the good news is that this is incredibly easy. The bad news is this is incredibly difficult, especially for a computer-centric workforce.”
Dr Levine is the inventor of the treadmill desk. A recent study has shown that, as well as being beneficial for your long-term health, there is also evidence that using a treadmill desk makes you more productive. Before you tie yourself in knots trying to envisage editing text while jogging, be assured that you are only required to walk at 1–2 mph, and it apparently doesn't take long to master the new motor skills required to walk while you work! Although an interesting concept, this might seem a rather drastic and not entirely practical piece of office equipment for your average editor, if there is such a thing.
So how about starting with baby steps? Try mini-breaks:
Set a timer for 20–30 minutes and stand up every time it goes off. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you can get out of your chair and assume a vertical position, even if you’re on the phone or at your screen. If you’re hammering away at the keyboard, give your arms and hands a break and stretch them while you’re at it. Standing up can also give you new perspective on your work: take the opportunity to look at the bigger picture or review your progress.
Working from home creates plenty of opportunities for regular mini-breaks – getting up to answer the door to the postman, putting on a washing or letting the cat or dog in or out are all valid ways of incorporating movement into your day.
In the office, answering the phone, sending a file to the printer or checking social media feeds can all be used as prompts to move.
Of course there are plenty of innovative ways to use technology to encourage breaks – have a look at these five apps which do just that. I'm intrigued by the premise, but I wonder – how do you avoid the temptation to override the reminders? Do let me know in the comments if you've tried apps like these.
The key is to find something that resonates with you and your working style. You don’t want to be told to stand up and move by a bossy app if it’s going to evoke a sulky response reminiscent of your teenage years – Don’t tell ME what to do! (Or worse, if it's a reminder of your own sulky teenager at home – you come to work to get away from him/her for a few hours!)
Be creative – my colleague, Ali Turnbull, listens to Classic FM while working and uses the ad breaks and news bulletins as a prompt to get up, stretch and drink some water.
My promise to you this week is that I'll aim to practise what I preach, set a timer and get up out of my chair every 30 minutes. Why don't you join me and let me know in the comments if you notice any difference?
It's really a very simple message, move more, but somehow it can seem so hard to fit it into our busy schedules. Here's Dr Levine again on the importance of not sitting.
I’ll look at more specific things you can do at your desk and in your mini-breaks in future posts but, for now, I'll leave you with a question:
How do you incorporate regular mini-breaks into your working day? Let me know in the comments below – do you have the secret of a healthy (seated) working life?