You wake up in the morning, commute in, stare at a computer screen for hours on end, commute home, make dinner, watch some Netflix, go to bed.
This is a standard day for many of us who work in offices or at desks. So what’s wrong with this picture?
There’s a lot of sitting. And staring. Neither of which is good for your health.
Sitting disease is real
We know that sitting all day at work, in the car or on the bus, and for much of the evening at home isn’t healthy. We’ve known at least since the late '90s, when research linked physical inactivity and poor health.
So, why do we still sit all the time?
Sitting is built into American culture. Now that so many of us are working behind a computer rather than doing more hands-on work that involves movement, sitting has become a hard habit to break.
Things like where someone lives, how close they live to parks, neighborhood walkability, availability of public transportation and many other factors that are built into our lives can influence how often (or not) we are active during the day.
“One of the most striking changes to workspaces over the last century is we’ve shifted from standing to sitting. It obviously has a substantial impact on overall health. Even outside of work, more than 60 percent of our waking lives are spent sitting,” says Christopher McMullen, M.D., a rehabilitation medicine specialist who practices at the sports medicine clinics at Husky Stadium and Harborview Medical Center.
There’s even a trendy term for our newfound sedentary lifestyle: sitting disease. Sitting disease is associated with higher mortality rates for many serious health conditions, from heart disease to diabetes to cancer.
Eye strain is also real
You know that dry, tired feeling your eyes get when you’ve been staring at screens all day? There’s a name for that feeling: eye strain. Though it’s definitely uncomfortable, it’s probably not going to harm your vision.
“Eye strain usually isn't serious and goes away once you rest your eyes,” says Jay Neitz, Ph.D., a professor in the ophthalmology department at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
More concerning, he says, is the possibility that too much screen time can cause permanent vision damage. Nearsightedness, sometimes called myopia, is increasing in the U.S. population according to some research. Children and young people under age 25 are particularly at risk.
Myopia also puts people at greater risk for developing glaucoma, a group of eye diseases that cause blindness.
“A high incidence of glaucoma has been observed in heavy computer users, and those who were nearsighted seemed to have a higher risk,” Neitz says.
All of this about sitting disease and eye problems can sound scary, but there are simple ways you can decrease your sitting and staring time and increase your active time. (Yes, even if you’re always busy at work.)
Change your computer setup
If you’re one of the many who sit all day at work, you may not even realize how much your body is contorting to make the position comfortable.
“It’s a problem if your body has to adapt to your workspace, rather than your workspace adapting to your body,” McMullen says.
This includes everything from the height and distance of your monitor, your ability to stand if you want to, the positioning of your mouse and keyboard and the type of mouse and keyboard you use.
Finding the most comfortable setup for you will probably involve some trial and error, McMullen says, depending on your personal needs and how flexible your workspace is.
A desk that adjusts for both sitting and standing positions is optimal. If that’s not an option, see if you can get something to set on your desk to raise your monitor up.
It doesn’t have to be fancy: McMullen and his colleagues prop up a shared computer with reams of paper, taking some away for people who are shorter and adding more reams for people who are taller.