November 04, 2020


I have to remind myself that I’m lucky I get to work in front of a computer all day.

After all, most of my ancestors would think I’d won the lottery. I’m imagining a caveman version of myself hauling rocks while being chased by saber-toothed tigers. I don’t think he’d have much sympathy for my sore back.

That said, working at a computer all day can do real damage to our bodies. Perhaps not as much as a tiger, but as hunter-gatherers, we evolved to move.

With a few proactive changes to your daily work habits, you may notice an immensely positive change to your posture and focus.
Keep Moving

Many of us treat work as if it’s something to be attacked and that discomfort should be conquered in the name of answering emails. I know when I have to work I feel obligated to sit and stare at the screen for as much as possible. But even though I’m adopting the physical position of work, this isn’t necessarily the most efficient use of my time.

The best way to regain a bit of focus is to move.

Sitting on a chair for eight hours a day is, frankly, terrible for you.

It slows your metabolism, leading to fatigue, poor mood and eventual weight gain.

A common strategy is that for every hour of seated work, spend 5-10 minutes standing, walking or stretching. Personally, I have to use a timer, but there are many health and wellness apps that can do similar things. If you work from home, consider having an exercise mat stretched out nearby. That way, you can do a quick exercise with one less step. For a more active break, consider:

  • Yoga
  • While almost any stretching is beneficial to your energy levels, your hamstrings tighten considerably while sitting. Consider a Downward Facing Dog if you can touch the floor or a wide-legged forward fold. Shoulder rolls and light twists can also help keep the spine active.
  • Bodyweight Exercises
  • Doing ten quick push-ups or other bodyweight exercises may wake you up as much as a cup of coffee.
  • Walking
  • The meditative qualities of a good walk can’t be overstated. Every time, I worry that taking a break will hurt my ‘flow.’ Instead, it boosts my energy and I find that tricky problems aren’t so intractable.
Work Without Sitting

Many of us have back issues from years of toiling away at the computer. I always felt that it didn’t matter—what mattered was the work. Then, I’d try to fix what I’d done to myself with yoga and exercise. But after hunching for years, my chest muscles literally constricted and grew weaker—so much so that it felt good to hunch.

This is a crazy mindset. Pain doesn’t help anyone work and trying to fix the damage I did to myself was far more time intensive than a bit of preventative care would’ve been.

The smartest thing you can do if you work at a computer is to try to prevent the hunch in the first place.

The best way to do this is to change your work setup.
Ideally, your computer screen should be at your natural eye level with your spine straight and your keyboard just below elbow level. Properly set up, your posture will be dramatically better.

While there are countless ways to get to this place, here are a few quick ideas…

Rethink the Laptop

Sitting and using a laptop at a table is a wonderful way to get the dreaded computer hunch. Remember Gollum hunching over his ring? One way to fight this if you use a laptop is to simply put it up higher. Stand at a counter while you work. Rest one leg, then the other, on a nearby chair.

Standing will help you stay moving and encourage you to stretch.

A cheap option to up your game is to get a laptop stand (they can be found for under $40).

Keep Your Shoulders Low

The basic ergonomic problem of laptops is that, no matter what elevation they are, either your head will be hunched too low (back pain) or your arms will be too high (neck and shoulder pain).

If you do a lot of computer work, it may be time to invest in a separate mouse and keyboard.

Prop the laptop up to eye level using a laptop stand (or old books!) in order to keep your arms bent and shoulders back.

The Chair

A wide variety of ergonomic chairs exist, and these can help with lumbar support, arm rests, neck rests and so on. However, a more active-- and drastic-- move is to leave the chair behind.

Until recently, yoga or stability balls were quite the fad for offices. But while there are benefits, they can cause as many problems as they solve for. Your core muscles are engaged, but you’re still sitting, and quite possibly hunching over.

A better alternative may be a kneeling chair.

They are cheap and can be used in conjunction with a traditional chair, or instead of one altogether. They promote active sitting for a more active core and upright spine. The downside is that extended use can reduce circulation in the legs.

The Standing Desk

While this is a more expensive option, a proper standing desk can revolutionize your physical approach to work by encouraging movement.

When your body grows weary of sitting, you can pop the desk right up and keep your flow.

Combine it with a monitor, mouse and keyboard and you can easily work for hours with perfect posture.

Under Desk Bike

The ultimate tool to keep active while working, under desk bikes are also much cheaper than traditional indoor bikes.

Properly set up beneath a standing desk, you can keep your metabolism fully engaged while doing Zoom calls.
Invest in Yourself

We spend a third of our lives working, but we often don’t give much thought to our comfort.

But work is a marathon, not a sprint.

No matter how physically intensive your job is or isn’t, investing in your body will only help your focus, mood and productivity.