I think 90% of the clients I work with, whether in person or online, are desk based workers. This also includes myself. Yes, I do work a couple of the days on the studio floor, but the majority of my time is spent sat at my desk doing online coaching. Today, I want to run you through everything you could possibly need in order to stay healthy and remain mobile when you're not at your desk. Here's the problems a lot of desk workers will face:
- Pain in the neck and back (mainly lower back)
- Tight traps (the trapezius muscle is a large, triangular shaped muscle that starts on the top of the back of the neck, going all the way down to the middle of the back). As you're reading this now, are your shoulders shrugged? That's your traps, and they're probably tight.
- Poor sleep quality due to lack of steps, lack of sunlight exposure, and/ or too much blue light from device screen time.
- Poor digestion quality due to inappropriate eating behaviours (e.g. rushing food to meet deadlines, eating whilst working, and eating whilst stressed).
Not every desk worker will face all if any of these problems, but I know for a fact a lot of you reading this who are desk workers will relate to at least one of the above problems. Cue a blog post to finally solve these issues...
Desk Set Up
One of the first problems I see with desk workers is their desk set up. Inadequate support in their chair of choice and poor positioning of screens is a path that will only lead you to neck and back problems. Here's some very simple changes to make, in order to improve the quality of your set up:
• If you're using a laptop (as opposed to a desktop monitor), you NEED to purchase a laptop stand. This is going to allow your head to look forwards, not down, saving your neck. I use this one here. Alongside of this, you'll also need to purchase a separate mouse and keyboard. There's no point in trying to save your back but giving yourself t-rex arms at the same time. Using the keyboard and touchpad on your laptop when it's on a stand will lead to shoulder and trap issues.
• Get a good chair. Sounds simple, right? But we need to make sure our chair of choice has adequate lumbar support, adjustability, and a good level of cushioning. The other option to look into is a standing desk. Hours sitting is never something I would recommend so, if you have the ability, looking into a standing desk is another really good option. Don't buy a chair with a low back, a chair that's made of plastic, or a chair that doesn't swivel.
Stretches & Steps
Bodybuilder or not, your daily steps are important. It doesn't matter whether you're walking to lose weight, improve your mental health, or just to work on your overall fitness levels, having a daily step goal is important. However, these steps don't all have to be hit in one go. My advice would be to set yourself a timer to go off every hour, and use this time to spend 5-10 minutes walking about your house/ office. This is not only going to contribute to your daily step total, but it's also a good way of staying mobile and "loose". Too many hours sat without moving is going to contribute heavily to the majority of the problems mentioned at the beginning of this post.
Another great addition to the breaks you take from your desk are some stretches. Here is a short video I put together on my PT studio's account. Give some of these stretches a try in order to break up your desk work. If you have any specific desk related issues (neck pain, back pain, etc.) these aren't designed to "cure" them but, as a general rule of thumb, these stretches should help you to stay "loose" during the day.
For help with current pain and lack of mobility, I would advise seeking help from a physio or massage therapist. This is actually something I'm a believer in regardless of whether you have an injury or not. A regular maintenance massage can do wonders for your training and day to day life.
The GI System
So this one could be a series of blog posts on its own, but I'll try to keep it short and sweet.
GI stands for Gastrointestinal System. Gastro meaning stomach, intestinal meaning intestines. This system is heavily effected by stress. If you enter into a sympathetic state (fight or flight) because, for example, you're dealing with annoying customers, trying to meet deadlines, arguing with fellow staff members, etc. this state will kick in and cause the following effects on your GI system:
- Reduced GI secretions (saliva)
- Reduced GI motility (movement)
- Reduced GI blood flow
Now ask yourself, is your desk the best place to sit and eat at? Add on top the fact that, If you're eating in front of a screen, you're most likely not going to be focussing on what you''re eating, resulting in a lowered cephalic phase (what prepares your body for food) and a lack of chewing (contributing towards food not being adequately broken down, bloating, stomach cramps, and overall digestive stress). No, it's probably not doubling up as a dining table particularly well.
So, what can we do to solve this?
- Never eat when stressed (Get your heart and breathing rate down first. This can be done by some simple deep breathing for a minute or two).
- Never eat in front of a screen (Removing yourself entirely from your desk is the best option).
- Chew your food properly (This will begin the process of chemical digestion and help food move easily through your GI system, resulting in no bloating or stomach cramps).
Another major side effect of desk work is poor sleep. This is generally due to at least one of the following:
- Too much blue light exposure (especially the final few hours before bed).
- Working too close to your bed time
- Lack of sun exposure due to sitting inside all day
- Lack of day to day activity
- Caffeine being consumed like water in the office
The first important key to good sleep quality is what's known as your sleep hygiene. This is essentially what you do leading up to, during, and after your sleep. Think of it as a set routine. The most important thing being your sleep wake cycle.
Your sleep wake cycle has to be the same every single day. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday, in order to create a healthy circadian rhythm. This is your bodies internal clock.
From here, we can assess what other strategies we need to put in place in order to enhance sleep quality. This will need to include:
- Stopping work at least 2 hours before bed, in order to wind down for the evening.
- Making sure at least 20 minutes of sunlight exposure is achieved each day. During the spring/ summer months, this could be done during your lunch hours. During the autumn/ winter months, it might be worth looking to buy yourself a SAD light, like this one here.
- Getting in a good amount of steps each day, on top of your exercise of choice.
- Stopping all stimulants 8 hours before bed. Decaf is a good alternative, but will likely still include a tiny amount of caffeine, so be careful.
After all of those boxes are ticked, you can also:
- Purchase a pair of blue light blocking glasses. Wear these 3 hours before bed. I wear these ones here as I already have to wear glasses day to day, so they slide nicely over the top (not pretty, I know!).
- Take a magnesium supplement around 1 hour before going to bed (DISCLAIMER: Always check with a medical professional before taking a supplement. I am not a medical professional and do not advise taking this without being checked over first). Here is the magnesium I use.
So, that is everything you need to know as desk worker. Begin adding in some of the steps I've mentioned above and I know for a fact you'll start to see the positive results over time.
Until the next one✌🏻