A sedentary lifestyle can have serious repercussions for your spinal health. Stand tall and ease backache with these expert tips.

It’s no secret: sitting hunched over a computer all day is no good for your back. Health experts say a sedentary lifestyle can lead to damaged health but, thankfully, there are things we can do every day to limit the impact.

Osteopath Simon Freedman was the first academic to put forward the thesis that our bodies are simply not designed to sit – and certainly not for eight or more hours a day. “Most of us have seen the ‘sitting is the new smoking’ headlines. It’s pretty scary because most of us can choose to stop smoking, but not to stop sitting,” he says. Worse still, Freedman adds, “Research also shows that going to the gym for a few hours a week won’t reverse the problems created by excessive sitting.”

Sitting inactivates those muscles, so then when you stand or do other things, pain might start to set in

So, what exactly is sitting at your desk doing to your body? “Sitting for a prolonged amount of time affects the posterior chain– the hamstrings, the glutes, and the lower back, which are all connected,” explains fitness coach Michael Adu, Founder of Stress-Less Fitness, based at Club Workspace Clerkenwell Workshops. “Sitting inactivates those muscles, so then when you stand or do other things, pain might start to set in.”

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Sitting also puts your spine into an un-neutral alignment. “When we stand, we should have a small arch in the lower back, but when we sit we often slump and reverse this curve,” explains Idris Moudi, an osteopath, Pilates instructor and Founder of Natural Moves holistic health clinic.

“This overloads and stretches the lower back muscles and ligaments, as well as increasing the pressure within the intervertebral discs,” he adds. “We also tend to bring our head forward, which can result in tightness in the back of the neck and weakness in the front.”

Prevention and prehab

The first step should always be adjusting your work setup. Although it might not be financially viable to make major changes like buying an ergonomic chair, there are small changes that everyone can make – from investing in a comfortable backpack for carrying your laptop around, to ensuring your desk space is set up correctly.

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Above: The RH Logic 400 chair

“The one thing that all chair research agrees on is that people adjust their office chairs very rarely. It’s essential you get your chair adjustment and workspace set up right,” says Freedman, who offers illustrated guidance on correct computer setup.

Moudi advises desk workers to sit with your seat at a height where your elbows and knees are at 90 degrees, and your line of sight is in the centre of your computer screen. “This may mean working on a desktop rather than a laptop, or getting an extra keyboard and putting your laptop on a stand. You should also have your keyboard directly in front of your screen to avoid having to twist,” he says.

Adopting a good posture and taking regular breaks are also crucial. Take a micro- break of 30–60 seconds every 15 minutes – stand up and walk around your desk, or to the water cooler.

For a more quirky approach, Stress-Less Fitness offers “youthful movement” classes, which encourage you to embrace your inner child and move in a more youthful way. “We believe that the majority of humans moved in our best and most natural way when we were children, between the ages of two and 11, and this has been lost with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles,” Adu explains. “Our programmes are designed in a way which restores or expands this movement capability.”

Want to hear more health advice from Stress-Less Fitness? Check out Adu's tip on how to minimise stress at work. Or read Work to Live: Health tips for the workplace to find out how to be the very best version of you at work.

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