Desk duty: Staying healthy through the long hours

Guilty of the sofa slump, the cafe hunch or eight hours of mindless snacking? There are better, more productive ways to work that can transform your day at your desk – and your productivity.

However you work – desktop computer, laptop or mobile device – we’ve all felt the drag of long days in front of the screen. If you’ve no colleagues to interrupt you, it’s easy to get into a flow and realise you haven’t moved for hours, skipped lunch for a deadline, or you took part in an endless session of email scrolling that’s left you with text neck once you look up and log off. None of this is conducive to great work and can leave you hungry, fatigued and aching.

According to a report by IPSE (the Association of Independent and the Self Employed), the majority of freelancers prefer to work from home. That means that while there are so many comforts to be gained (being in charge of your own schedule and smashing through the laundry during conference calls), we don’t necessarily adopt the best working habits. These can have short-term side effects, such as dehydration and lack of concentration, or more long-term consequences including minor aches and pains or even repetitive strain injuries.

There’s a long list of reasons why we tire, slump and feel lethargic at our desk, and they can be broadly summed up into environmental factors and personal factors.

Environmental is just that – lighting, temperature and the poor workstation setup; personal is what’s going on with you, and some are more within your control than others. Poor posture awareness, lack of sleep, lack of good nutrition, prolonged positions, poor eyesight and repetitive tasks are all factors that can make our day debilitating. And then there’s stress. “Stress, pain and tension all have similar chemistry, and it’s one of the biggest drivers that I see in patients coming to the clinic,” says Hannah Freeth, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist at Vanbrugh Physiotherapy

Forgetting to stay hydrated or stopping to eat are two things that Alison Clark, a freelance dietitian, sees regularly in workplaces. “Being dehydrated, even a small amount, can affect your concentration, performance and can even make you perceive a task to be harder,” she says. “I recommend getting into a routine of sipping water throughout the day. Most people don’t drink anything until lunch, if they even take a break, and then they’ll down a litre of water, which the body won’t absorb as effectively.”

This feature originally appeared in Underpinned’s magazine, September 2019

You can read the full text of this article on Underpinned’s website