Keeping physically and mentally healthy for productive working

When working from home, or not at your regular desk, it is important to make sure you get your work space, routine and headspace set up as well as possible. Here are a few tips for keeping your body and mind in tip top shape for productive working.

Improving your posture

1. 90 is the magic number

Ideally when sitting at your computer you should have your knees at 90°, your hips at 90° and your elbows at 90°. To achieve this you may need to raise your seat or put a cushion on it and you might need to put something under your feet (a sturdy box file is quite a good size).

2. Screen Height: The height of your screen is also important

Ideally the centre of your screen wants to be at about eye level and directly in front of you. If you are working on a laptop it might be worth investing in a separate keyboard and a stand to lift the screen. We tend to flex our heads a little forward with a laptop and this may lead to lower neck pain or stiffness.

3. Sitting comfortably

From a posture point of view the most overlooked part of sitting is how you get to the seated position. When you just sit naturally there is a tendency to roll the pelvis and it tilts backwards a little. This has an effect on our normal spinal curves and can cause low back ache. It also has a knock on effect up the spinal curves and can contribute to lower or upper neck pain.

To get in to the sitting position you firstly need to squat just like you would at the gym. Bend you knees, stick your bottom out and bend at the hips so your chest comes towards your knees. From here you need to sit back as far as you can on your chair before straightening your body into an upright position. Using this slightly peculiar method of getting to sitting means that once you are upright in your chair your spinal curves will now be in a more mechanically advantageous position that requires less energy and causes less discomfort.

So once you have sorted your work area and hopefully you are as comfortable as possible it is still important to take regular breaks to help keep your muscles healthy and flexible. The more comfortable you are and the less distracted by discomfort, the more productive you will be. So here are 3 more tips for a healthy body.

1. Stay hydrated

When you get engrossed in work you can forget to drink enough and dehydration can contribute to muscle stiffness, headaches and brain fog. We need approximately 1.5 to 2 litres of non-alcoholic fluid a day. It does vary from person to person and water is ideal. If you find water difficult to drink just try and have a small glass while you are waiting for the kettle to boil. The beauty of drinking more fluid means you need to get up more often to relieve yourself which helps keep you moving.

2. Take regular movement breaks

Every 40 to 60 minutes ideally. Get up and shake out if nothing else. Take a wander around the house or garden just for 5 minutes to help the circulation to your muscles improve.

3. Try some simple neck and shoulder exercises

(If you are not sure about whether an exercise is suitable or if it causes discomfort please check with your medical professional before continuing).

a) Roll your shoulders backwards in small circles, drawing your shoulder blades together and down your back. Repeat between 5 to 10 times.

b) Imagine you have a string attached to the centre of the crown of your head and that it is being gently pulled upwards. This should cause your chin to tuck in a little and it stretches the back of your neck. Hold in this position for 10 seconds, if comfortable, then release. Repeat 3 times.

c) Let you right ear drop to your right shoulder. You should feel a stretch in your left neck. Hold it there for 10 seconds then gently bring your head to upright before lowering it to the other side. Hold gently for 10 seconds and then lift back up to the midline. Repeat 3 times on each side.

d) Cross your arms in front of your chest in a seated position. Gently rotate your upper body from side to side in a slow rocking type motion. Repeat for 30 seconds, or more if it feels comfortable.

As well as looking after our bodies we need to look after our minds. Recent research shows that stress can directly cause pain in the body. One of the simplest ways it does this is to increase the tension in our muscles. Have you ever felt that you are wearing your shoulders as earrings?

Here are 3 simple techniques to reduce stress related tension:

  1. Take a deep breath in and as you breathe out let your shoulders drop. Note how far they lower. Take another deep breath in and again on the out breathe let your shoulders drop further. You can do this as often as you require.

  2. If you feel your stress levels rising then taking a couple of minutes out to try a mindful breathing technique may help. First think of a word or phrase that makes you feel calm and relaxed. It might be ‘calm’ or ‘peace’ or ‘relax’. Take a deep breath in and as you do focus on the air moving into your nostrils. Notice its temperature, the sound it makes and how it feels. Then on the out breath say your chosen word inside your head. Continue to focus on your breath and your word each time to breathe for 2 to 3 minutes. This helps to slow the hamster wheel of thoughts that can spiral around in our heads if we are stressed as well as rebalance the stress response in our nervous systems.

  3. When we get stressed we can get a bit stuck in our heads and this can lead us to feel anxious. By focusing our attention back into our bodies it helps to regulate this response. If you find yourself feeling anxious or tense just sit comfortably and starting at your feet clench the muscles of your lower legs, feet and ankles. Hold for a count of 5 and then let go, releasing all the tension. You should feel a wave of relaxation through this part of your body. Repeat, holding each area for 5, your thighs and pelvis, then your belly and low back, then your shoulders arms and hands and finally screw your face up for a count of 5 and release. You should feel much more connected to your body when you finish and more productive as you go back to work.

If you would like more advice on how to keep yourself fit and healthy and how to enhance your wellbeing then please do visit the resources section of the Osteopathy For All website.

Pippa Cossens Registered Osteopath, Specialising in Chronic and Persistent Pain and Stress Illness