Since this is a blog post aimed at people who spend much of their time writing for pleasure or as a profession, you are no doubt reading this article while seated in a chair in front of a computer. And like most computer users, you’ve probably been in this sedentary position for quite a while, shoulders rounded and neck forward. Most of us are guilty of abandoning good common sense to balance our work routine with regular physical activity, even if it’s taking a ten minute walk on the treadmill, doing simple stretch exercises like the ones advocated by the Royal Canadian Air Force, or marching on the spot for about ten minutes. A litmus test if your sitting posture is forcing your spine out of alignment is the extent of back and neck pain you encounter at the end of the day. If you are experiencing fatigue and discomfort, and perhaps have difficulty walking without leaning forward, you may have “sitting disease”. Sitting disease is a new buzzword for a sedentary lifestyle that might be putting your health at risk; this syndrome affects people of all ages, including young children.
Maintaining good posture is vital. Humans are not meant to sit in one position for too long, slumped over a keyboard for hours on end. Our sedentary lifestyle often causes us to develop early arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, lethargy, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cancer and obesity. In addition, curvature of the spine is a major health issue, contributing to a host of aches and pains and health problems, including behavior abnormalities. The skeleton is the framework of support for all the body’s systems, including circulatory, respiratory, and digestive as well as nervous system functions. Prevention is better, and easier, than cure. Today’s “sitting disease” also includes spending hours behind the wheel, sitting long hours at a desk or workstation, relaxing on the couch watching TV, and sleeping on a faulty mattress. For young children the problem of potential postural issues later in life often starts with having to sit in car seats and strollers.
As a full-time writer and editor I find it frustrating to be constantly aware of the clock, but I’ve discovered it is imperative to take regular short breaks that involve some sort of physical activity. Of course the solution lies in maintaining a good posture at all times. As a teenager I recall my mother regularly admonishing me to sit up straight, but bad habits creep in when one is engrossed in computer work. The best position to sit at a desk is simply to push your hips as far back as they can go in the chair; adjust the seat height so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees equal to or slightly lower than, your hips. Adjust the back of the chair to a 100°-110° reclined angle; also adjust the armrests (if fitted) so that your shoulders are relaxed. It is my nature to get involved in a project and work at it without monitoring the time it takes to deliver a good end-product. Often, if the project necessitates, I follow a 16-hour a day schedule over several days or weeks, which is hazardous to muscle health. It is vital to keep our muscles healthy to be able to walk, run, jump, lift things, play sports; strong muscles also help to keep your joints in good shape. However, of late my daily routines have clashed with my goals and I am forced to re-assess old physical and mental habits. I now work at my computer in one hour increments, taking time out for brisk walks, spinning while listening to music, meditating and reading. Adopting a habit of stretching out the entire body to loosen cramped muscles has not been easy, but I’m noticing a huge difference in my attitude to wellness.
Ergonomic seating facilitates posture by supporting “the carriage of the body as a whole, the attitude of the body, or the position of the arms and legs”. Good posture also refers to the position in which you hold your body upright against gravity while standing, sitting or lying down; specifically the position which is attained when the joints are not bent or twisted and the spine is aligned. It involves training your body to move and function where the least strain is placed on bones, joints and soft tissues. When sitting, distribute your weight evenly on both hips, keep your head and neck aligned over your shoulders, sit back in your chair [your back should be supported by the seat back], adjust your chair height so that your hips are slightly higher than your knees and be sure your feet are supported by the floor or a footrest. Avoid sitting for long periods of time; get up from your chair at least once every hour and do not twist or bend your back from a seated position.
To avoid spending long hours working at your computer, placing excessive strain on your posture, it is recommended that you plan ahead what your writing project demands of you. I’ve found creating a spontaneous pre-writing mind map activity of relevant information. The mind map organizes one’s thoughts to be more focused to easily convert written work into a first draft. The draft copy is then easy to develop further. Start with writing the topic in the centre of a sheet of paper and then generate a web of ideas from that, developing and relating these ideas as the mind makes associations. Multi-tasking a variety of tasks or projects also prolong the time spent seated, so my advice is to work on one project at a time. Follow basic get-up-and-move activities to improve circulation; however, while standing instead of sitting for long periods while working at your computer may seem a better alternative, standing also implies simple lack of movement which is unhealthy. Health risks include carotid atherosclerosis (a disease of the arteries) due to the extra load on your circulatory system; you’re also more likely to get varicose veins, which cause all sorts of complications. Consequently, the operative word is momentum; take regular breaks to sustain motion through physical activity.
In today’s society all we do is move from seat to seat. We wake up and sit at the table eating our breakfast. We drive to work in our car sitting behind the wheel. At work most of us spend hours seated in a chair behind a desk. Then it’s back home to our dinner seat and ultimately the couch seat, or if we have plans for an evening out we’ll sit at a restaurant table, or sit at the cinema or live entertainment. Perhaps your habitual activities are not quite so regimented, but you must admit we do sit a lot putting our bodies in a constant state of flexion which leads to chronic back pain. The number one exercise you can do to alleviate slouching forward strengthens your shoulder blade muscles. In a standing position pinch your shoulder blades back as tightly as possible [imagine you are gripping a pencil between your shoulder blades], hold for a count of ten and relax. Repeat 10 times. Relieve back ache by simply standing and placing your hands on top of your pelvis. Next arch backwards and return back to standing. With each repetition try to go further and further. Your feet should be about hip width apart. Repeat 10 times. Try these two exercises first thing in the morning, as an hourly break from sitting or whenever your shoulders and back feel tight and sore.