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Ditch the Seat: How to Keep Moving at Work

Dr. Alice Chen of Hospital for Special Surgery.
Dr. Alice Chen of Hospital for Special Surgery. Photo Credit: HSS

STAMFORD, Conn. -- For decades, sitting at a desk from 9 to 5 was considered standard practice for most professionals and office workers. Today, doctor and other health professionals are cautioning against the dangers of a sedentary workplace existence.

"Recent research has validated what we as physiatrists have been advising our patients all along: there is good and bad sitting posture and they each impact how your core and gluteal muscles work or don’t work," said Dr. Alice Chen, Physiatrist at Hospital for Special Surgery. 

People who have jobs or hobbies in which they sit for prolonged periods of time are at greatest risk, such as office workers or drivers. People with cramped workspaces may be at risk as well. Our reliance on the computer has encouraged many of us to sit in a single position for longer periods of time.

"I recommend getting out of the sitting position once an hour, even if it is only for a two- minute stretch or walk," said Dr. Chen. "Deliver the memo by hand to your colleague. Get your own coffee or water. Take a real lunch break, don’t just eat at your desk."

Prolonged periods of inactivity, such as sitting, cause muscular atrophy -- or shrinking muscles -- a predilection toward obesity, insulin resistance, and increases in cardiovascular risks. Poor sitting can lead to inactive muscles and all the physiological processes mentioned above, but poor posture and inactive muscles can also lead to neck and back pain, which has become an epidemic in our culture.

Sometimes, it's possible to both productive and healthy. Dr. Chen recommends standing and marching in place while you are on a phone call helps. "Phone calls from a wireless headset free you to pace or move about your space," she said. "Dynamic sitting balls also encourage engagement of the muscles even while sitting."

Having the proper hardware can be as important as being mindful of one's posture. An ergonomic desk evaluation from a skilled physical therapist or occupational therapist can ensure the proper positioning of desk equipment can encourage better posture while seated.

Dr. Alice Chen, Physiatrist, treats disorders and injuries of the neck, back, muscles, and joints in a minimally invasively manner. She practices at the HSS Outpatient Center in Stamford.