Whether you’re working from home or back in the office, nothing could be more frustrating than the end-of-the-day headache, eye strain, and general irritability brought on by spending so much time working from your desk. And since your day doesn’t stop there - with childcare pickups to grocery shopping to dinners with friends still on the agenda - no one wants to carry the ill effects of our sedentary, desk jobs after work has ended.
Regardless of what kind of job you have, learning how to take care of your mind, body, and health is extremely important. If you work at a desk, we tackled some posture-related issues when it comes to your workplace ergonomics and workstation set-up, but there is more to the story, so we wanted to dig a bit deeper into things like erasing bad habits, poor lighting, and screen fatigue.
If you want to learn how to sneak a little self-care in during the workday, then you’re in luck. Follow along as we describe three essential tips on how to take care of yourself when you work at a desk.
1. Blue light and reducing eye strain while working at the computer.
The term “blue light” seems to be one of the biggest buzz words when it comes to screen use, and there’s a good reason for it.
This is due to the fact that not all light is created equally. Blue light has blue wavelengths, which are known to boost attention, reaction times, and even mood. While those benefits are ideal during the day, particularly while working, they are extremely disruptive at night. And our growing addiction to smartphones, tablets, and computer screens is prolonging our once-limited exposure to blue light.
This leads to the million-dollar question: is exposure to blue light harmful to the eyes? Generally speaking, no. But long-term, it can be. Blue light can affect the body’s circadian rhythm, which roughly lasts 24 hours. Circadian rhythms are the technical term for how your sleep/wake cycles are structured. Because they follow patterns of light, excessive exposure to light sources can affect circadian rhythms and result in daytime fatigue or drowsiness, paired with difficulty sleeping at night. Poor circadian rhythms have also been linked to the development of serious and chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
One of the biggest myths is that blue light causes eye strain, but that’s simply not true. The symptoms of eye strain are most likely connected to the ways in which we use our digital devices as opposed to the amount of blue light coming out of them. There’s not enough blue light emitted from our devices to cause harm to the structures in our eyes.
So, instead of wearing blue-light-blocking glasses, which, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, are not effective, try using this rule. To avoid eye strain, take frequent breaks using the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This gives your eyes a chance to reset. You can also try to reduce the glare from glass screens by using a matte screen filter for your device. Adjusting the brightness and contrast of your screen and dimming the lighting near your screen can help, too.
2. There’s more to posture than meets the eye.
We covered the foundations of posture in our 3-part “straighten-up” series (you could start with Part 1), but what isn’t covered are some interesting facts about posture that you may not have known.
Not only does poor posture affect your muscles and joints, but it also affects your lungs, digestive system, and urinary systems. For example, upright posture allows your lungs to fully expand and fill with air, whereas slouched postures have the opposite effect on lung expansion and breathing muscles. Ultimately, poor posture can lead to changes in your breathing volume and endurance, which will become an issue when you want to tackle that next workout video or go on that scenic hike on the next family vacation.
Perhaps surprisingly, poor posture can negatively affect the pelvic floor muscles and digestion, too. Prolonged periods of sitting place pressure on the bladder and cause weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to incontinence. Slouching also causes heartburn and constipation. The bottom line is that posture is extremely important, and while everyone’s resting posture looks slightly different (for a number of reasons), the overall goal should be to improve our posture and postural alignment (placing the body in an optimal position that incurs the least amount of stress on our supporting ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bones).
Related: Ready to tackle the nasty effects of bad posture? Check out Part 3 of our posture series.
3. 21.4 minutes of movement is all it takes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, all you need is 21.4 minutes of movement every day to combat the negative effects of desk work. That achievement gets you roughly 150 minutes per week, which follows the physical activity guidelines set by experts for overall health and wellness.
As if we need more reasons to get up and get moving, did you know that there is a 37% increase in mortality in people who sit more than six hours per day? Scary.
You should also consider incorporating sit-stand ratios. While the research on this topic is varied, frameworks hold more value than a definitive schedule. Don’t worry about using the same ratio as someone else - it’s supposed to be highly individualized with the main goal of finding the ratio that helps you avoid staying in one posture for too long.
Here are some sit-stand guidelines to get you started:
- 1:1 ratio (60-minute sit/60-minute stand)
- 2:1 (80-minute sit/40-minute stand)
- 3:1 (90-minute sit/30-minute stand)
Remember, find the ratio that works for you, not your coworker. The most important benefit to using sit-stand ratios is to avoid too much sitting or too much standing, both of which are bad for your body. As with so many other things, finding balance is key.
As you can see, learning how to care for yourself during the workday is more involved than just getting up once in a while. Poor posture, sub-optimal workstation set-up, and lack of physical activity are a recipe for disaster when it comes to your mental, physical, and emotional well-being after a long workday. What’s even worse is that these issues tend to creep up on you, which makes them more challenging to identify and fix.
So, learn how to stop the vicious cycle before it starts. Practice your sit-stand ratios, work out for at least 21 minutes every day, and use the 20/20/20 rule to fight off eye fatigue. You can also incorporate a few minutes of stretching into your workday routine, like this one to get rid of Tech Neck. We also love our new 2-week FB Plus Challenge, FB Reach, for increasing mind-body awareness and control over your own body.
What are your tips and tricks for #selfcare during the workday? Share your secrets with us below.
Written for Fitness Blender by Kayla Covert, PT, DPT
Board-Certified Neurological Clinical Specialist