Spending hours upon hours a week parked on your butt in front of your desk falls into the same category as spooning yourself an entire carton of ice cream in one sitting or staying up past 3 a.m. on a work night to catch up on The Bachelor: It’s just not all that good for you. And as I write this, I have the sitting-induced hip and leg pain to prove it. But according to pros, there are certain ways you can sit at your desk that are marginally less bad for your than others. Since most people likely don’t have the option of trading in their usual workspace seating for, say, the beachfront lounge chairs I’ve been petitioning for, it’s worth taking their cues for the sake of your own unhappy joints and muscles.
“I think the worst three things you can do would be sitting too low, sitting in a chair that’s too soft—which can create compression on the hips and cause groin pain, hip pain, and labral tears—and not having your feet on the floor,” says Dr. Emily Kiberd, a chiropractor and founder of the Urban Wellness Clinic.
So first things first: un-cross those legs. “We like to analyze sitting positions from the ground up, and can’t emphasize enough the importance of making sure that feet are supported on the floor,” says Dariusz Stankiewicz, physical therapist and co-founder of New York City’s Body Evolved. His tips: If you can’t quite reach the actual floor, place something underneath your chair on which you can rest your feet flat atop. Next, raise your chair so your hips are set slightly higher than a 90-degree angle, and keep your back straight and supported. Finally, rest your wrists so they’re supported on top of your desk, keep your eyes directly in line with your monitor, and you’re ready to get to work.
I’m personally in this weird habit of sitting criss-cross applesauce (the way you’d instruct a kindergartner to) whenever my hips start to hurt from being at my desk too long—which happens approximately 15 times per day. And while I know this both makes me look like a total weirdo in the office and makes wearing skirts to work difficult, what can I say? When I ask Dr. Kiberd about this (and preface the question with, “I’m sure this probably isn’t great but…”), she informed me that my child-friendly sitting style actually isn’t as bad as you’d probably think—as long as I’m not doing it all day, every day.
“With any kind of sitting, the idea is to create dynamic movement and to keep changing it—so if you’re sitting cross-legged for 10 or 20 minutes, you’re probably fine. If you’re doing that for eight hours, it will start to create compensations or overuse,” she says, noting that no one can sit in perfect posture all day long (or, if you’re like me, for more than 15 minutes), so shifting in your seat or crossing your legs every once in a while is totally fine. “If you feel yourself fatigue, and you’re hunched over your computer and rounded like a little T-rex, listen to your body. Take a break, get some water, take a walk, change it up.”
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This is exactly how much exercise you need to combat sitting all day, and where to stretch if it’s got your lower back barking.
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