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The Designer's Deadly Deskchair

Relax, have a seat…

or maybe you’d prefer to stand.

How many of you reading this have desk jobs? Feeling sloth-like? Got ants in your pants from sitting so long? In need of a healthier, more comfortable sitting situation?

As a designer, I find myself sitting at my desk in front of my computer for most, if not all, of the workday. Yes, my mind gets a lot of exercise, and maybe my fingers, but my body?…Not so much. After more than three years of sitting at a desk from 9 to 5, five days a week, I’m beginning to see and feel unsatisfactory consequences.

After coming across some astonishing research about how horrible sitting all day can be and then talking to a few certified health and fitness experts about ways to combat this, I have a new motivation for taking action against the effects of the deadly desk chair.

2012 is a new year people. As cliché as it may be, make it a resolution to change your sitting-all-day habits and tighten up that booty! Hopefully, you’ll gain some insight from what you’re about to read, and share this new knowledge with other designers or friends with sedentary jobs.

The scary research that sparked my interest

According to a Men’s Health article, Marc Hamilton, a physiologist and professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, warns sitting for prolonged periods of time (at a desk job for example) is damaging to your health. The more hours a day you sit, the greater chance you have of dying an earlier death—no matter how much exercise you get or how lean you are.

You would think working out before or after an 8 hour work day would somehow compensate for all of that sitting; but it doesn’t! The amount of time you exercise and the amount of time you spend sitting are completely separate variables when weighing the risk of heart-disease.

Hamilton says, “The cure for too much sitting isn’t more exercise. Exercise is good, of course, but the average person could never do enough to counteract the effect of hours and hours of chair time.”

So even you skinny people and super lean six-pack machines who are sitting in a chair right now and for most of the day are still victims.
One scientist even compared the effects of prolonged sitting to being a regular smoker. This sounds pretty drastic, but when an activity is compared to smoking, it can’t be a good thing.

Besides lowering your life expectancy, putting you at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, over time sitting can really put a strain on your hips, spine, and shoulders. Your entire body—from head to toe—suffers!

Is there any escaping the risk?

After speaking with a couple of experts, there appears to be a few lifestyle changing options to help prevent a flabby butt and a weak heart!
Karen Jashinsky, a Certified Personal Trainer, and Kevin Cronin, a Licensed Physical Therapist have given us desk sloths some hope. They’ve provided us with some insight and a few specific exercises we can incorporate into our workday; some without even leaving our desks!

Karen’s Advice

Staying in tip-top shape may present a huge challenge when one lacks a healthy eating and exercising regime. Moreover, alleviating stress may become difficult if it has taken a backseat to all the other priorities and responsibilities in one’s life. THEN, to top it all off many of us have sedentary jobs that make us sit at a desk all day. This in itself can contribute to slouching and tight shoulders, hips getting tight and back soreness. Fret not because there are things you can actually do to maximize your time at your desk by being strategic about fitting little workouts, exercises and stretches into your day.

For starters, I would highly encourage a fitness ball as a permanent chair or as a temporary chair that you can play around with during the day. Sitting on an exercise ball will help activate your core and leg muscles even while sitting. It is best to use the ball for short periods of time at first and to alternate it with a good ergonomically-designed desk chair. You can also use the ball for other exercises.

Think of sitting in your chair (or on your ball) all day as a way to get your core and stretch exercises in. You can fit your “cardio” in when you take breaks for lunch, coffee and calls. You can walk the stairs, take your calls on the cell and use it as a walking workout as well. The more you plan, the more effective you will be with fitting in a fair amount of cardio, core and stretching even while being productive at the office!

3 Easy Exercises from Karen

UPRIGHT BIRD DOG

(for your back and abs)

  1. Sit on edge of chair with feet flat on the floor, resting hands on the seat next to your hips
  2. Keep hips, knees and ankles bent 90 degrees
  3. Shift weight forward off seat so all of your weight rests on your hands and feet
  4. Brace abs and keep torso stable while lifting left foot of the floor and right arm straight out in front of you
  5. Hold for 10 seconds then repeat with opposite arm and leg
  6. Repeat 3 times at once or throughout the day
SEATED HIP STRETCH
  1. Sit up right in your chair
  2. Start with one leg and cross leg over the thigh of the other leg. Inhale while sitting up tall and exhale as you fold over your legs. Try to drape your hands over your legs and grab onto the calve of the leg that is on the floor. This will help pull your chest lower which will help you get a deeper hip stretch.  Hold for 30-45 seconds and switch sides.
WORKING YOUR CORE WHILE SITTING
  1. Uncross your legs and plant your feet on the floor
  2. Adjust your chair height so your hips are slightly higher than your knees
  3. Shrug your shoulders up to your ears and roll your shoulders back and down. Your shoulders should be relaxed and open
  4. Think about tucking your pelvis under and engaging your abdominal muscles
  5. Your keyboard and mouse should be right in front of you and your screen should be at eye level

Kevin’s Advice

Sitting for most of the day working at a desk or computer station may not seem physically demanding, but it is. The muscles in your neck, back, and arms work very hard to maintain the body’s posture. Circulation to the muscles is reduced, and irritating waste products build up inside the muscles as a result.

Learning how to reduce strain on the neck, shoulders, and low back will help to make you more comfortable, healthy, and efficient on the job.
Feeling discomfort is very common in today’s office environment and it is usually the result of sustained poor sitting posture or repetitive arm and hand motions. These are referred to as Cumulative Trauma Disorders, or CTD’s, and they account for half of all worker’s compensation claims today. The good news is that they are preventable!

If you work for an employer, it is their job to provide a safe working environment, but it’s your responsibility to properly use and care for your working body by paying attention to posture, body mechanics, and by doing regular, preventative stretching exercises to reduce strain on your low back, neck, and arms. By learning a few simple ergonomic principles, and applying them to desktop work, you can help to prevent injury and avoid pain problems.

The Workstation

  1. The computer work surface should be deep enough to fit your laptop or monitor, keyboard and wrist rest (unless you use a keyboard tray)
  2. Place the CPU on the floor if possible to save desktop space
  3. Place your monitor directly in front of you with the top of the monitor at or slightly below eye level. The monitor should be a comfortable distance from your eyes depending on your vision
  4. Relax your shoulders and allow your elbows to rest at an approximate 90 degree angle with wrists neutral while typing
  5. Sit with your back against the backrest of your chair in a virtually upright position in order to maximize back support
  6. Sit with your knees slightly lower than your hips, and feet resting flat on the floor, or on a footrest

The One Minute Muscle Manager

Frequent stretching of a few hard-working muscles is one way to relax muscular tension and discomfort by restoring blood flow to the muscles. This group of stretching exercises can easily be performed once every hour on the job. Since the entire stretching plan takes only one minute to complete, it will not reduce your productivity. Instead, it will reduce muscle fatigue, increase your comfort level, and help prevent injury to your working body, which will result in greater productivity overall.

Try out these exercises and you’ll be looking like a celebrity in no time! *wink wink

1. SHOULDER ELEVATION/DEPRESSION
  1. Sit or stand as shown
  2. Shrug shoulders up for 6 sec., then depress for 6 sec. stretching gently

2. UPPER BACK SIDE BENDING
  1. Sit or stand with hands clasped behind head as shown
  2. Raise tip of one elbow upward as you move tip of other downward
  3. Bend without allowing hips to move so you feel a stretch in upper back
  4. Stretch gently for 6 sec. each side

3. NECK EXTENSION/SHOULDER STRETCH
  1. Sit or stand with hands behind neck as shown
  2. Bend neck and shoulders backward until a stretch is felt
  3. Gently stretch for 6 sec.

4. WRIST FLEXION
  1. Hold wrist as shown
  2. Bend the wrist until you feel a mild stretch
  3. Stretch gently for 6 sec.
  4. Repeat on the opposite wrist

5. WRIST EXTENSION BILATERAL
  1. Hold palms together as shown
  2. Keeping palms closely together, bring wrists down and elbows up to gently stretch wrists for 6 sec.

6. BACK FLEXION
  1. Sit in chair
  2. Bend forward as shown with hands crossed and placed on your knees
  3. Gently stretch for 6 sec.

Give this advice a try and let us know what you think. Feeling refreshed and taking a minute to stretch and clear your mind will help you to be more productive and feel great all day, as well as prolonging your life!

Thank you Karen and Kevin!

Karen Jashinsky
Founder, CEO and Chief Fitness Officer of O2 MAX
Karen is a certified personal trainer with a BS/BA from Washington University and an MBA from USC.

O2 MAX is a fitness and media company that creates hybrid fitness solutions for busy people, with a large focus on students. As the founder, Karen is the recipient of the First “Emerging Female Leader” Award by The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the fitness industry’s only global trade association. In 2007, she was also named one of the 25 most influential young leaders in the fitness industry by IHRSA. She is a frequent speaker at fitness conferences and trade-shows on youth fitness, social media and entrepreneurship.

Kevin Cronin
Founder and CEO of Advanced Rehabilitation Clinics (ARC Physical Therapy)

Kevin received his education from Northwestern University’s Medical School and is a Licensed Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer, and is also certified in the Jones Strain Counterstrain technique.

Kevin is grateful for the opportunity to direct an organization that really makes a difference in the lives of the people they serve. It is a thrill for him to see his patients reclaim their abilities, to function pain-free, and to enjoy more active and productive lifestyles.

As a side note…

We’d like to mention that we just created a new website for Dietrich Horsey, a great new client of ours and a certified personal trainer located in Evanston, IL. He is whipping us into shape and we highly recommend using him! Check out the site at pxdtraining.com.

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