Modern Worker's Guide to a Healthy Workspace

If your computer monitor is positioned to high, you may feel pain in back and neck. Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Let’s start with the most obvious tips for the modern worker’s guide to health: Eat healthy, balanced meals and bring healthy snacks with you to work. Also, get out of your chair at least once an hour or two and exercise and stretch, keeping fresh blood flow moving throughout the day.

Here, we offer other strategies to keep worker bees happy and healthy.

Long-term health starts with posture and ergonomics

Sukey Novogratz and Jackie MacLeod, publishers of "The Well Daily," tell Mother Nature Network that better office posture can make an enormous difference in not only how you feel on a daily basis but also the longevity of your knees, neck, shoulders and back. "Changing your posture at work will not happen overnight, but the first step is to become aware of how you are sitting," says Novogratz. "Because so many of us spend our days sitting at a desk in front of a computer, the way we sit has become more important to our overall health and physical well-being," she adds.

The typical office setup of desk, desk chair, computer and phone is a recipe for tight hip flexors, rounded shoulders, sore wrists and weary eyes.

The first rule of a healthy worker is to place the keyboard a few inches above lap level. "Most people have their keyboards and computers placed too high, which puts chronic tension on the shoulders. In time, the shoulder muscles become as hard as iron, and because this occurs for so many hours a day, the constant tension starts to feel normal," Novogratz cautions.

Even the most expensive chair can lead to unhealthy posture. "Chairs need to be deep but not so deep that your feet can’t rest comfortably flat on the floor with your knees at right angles," MacLeod says. "Your weight should be balanced between your sit bones and your feet, and your back should be straight so that your sacrum is touching the back of the chair." Instead of a regular chair, opt for a stability ball, which can help improve posture and ease upper back and neck tension.

For optimal ergonomics, make sure your eyes are centered in the middle of the screen, or, at most, half an inch above the screen. Sit directly on your sit bones. Keep your heels directly under your knees, not under the chair or on the rungs as both of these positions are hard on the knees and put unnecessary stress on the neck and shoulders.

Let your health insurance company help with your wellness routine

Steve Kane, chief revenue officer at SpaFinder Wellness, suggests that even if your employer doesn't provide a wellness program, many insurance companies now offer rich online wellness programs and support. "Most of the large insurance companies have a website with a dedicated 'health and wellness' channel, offering everything from online health assessments, personalized wellness plans, online health coaching and support groups and exercise and stretching videos," says Kane, adding that these website health channels also offer relaxation and de-stressing podcasts you can do right at your desk.

Another bit of advice Kane offers for workers without a formal corporate wellness program in place at the job is initiating grassroots activities, like starting a wellness committee to put in place easy-to-execute items. Weekly group walks, or a discount program at nearby healthy restaurant, or assigning people to bring in fresh fruit to share several times a week are some examples Kane suggests.

"The best way to get your employer to consider a corporate wellness program is to show your bosses how you and others would embrace a wellness program and how you're helping push them in the right direction to get moving on setting one up," Kane says.

Get off your butt as often as possible

Woman walking at work
Even just a few minutes outdoors can break the lull of your office environment. (Photo: titov dmitriy/Shutterstock)

Although taking several breaks for exercise was mentioned in the introduction as an obvious example of how the modern worker can lead a healthy life, it begs to be mentioned again. Setting an alarm to ring every hour to two hours on your desktop or smartphone will remind you to do simple healthy routines like standing up for a quick stretch or taking a quick walk. Never, ever, use the elevator if you want to get in better shape. Take the stairs instead.

"No one can work continuously; you will get fatigued, your mind will wander and you will make mistakes," says David Sack, M.D., and CEO of Promises Treatment Centers. "If you have been grinding along at your desk for two hours, stop. Stand up. Leave your desk. If possible go for a 10-minute walk. Don’t like walking? Go down to the break room. Read a paper for 10 minutes or work on a crossword puzzle and leave the smartphone on your desk," Sack adds.

More advice for the modern worker

Employee of the month parking spaces are always closest to the building’s front door. Perhaps a new paradigm shift is needed; employee of the month parking spots should be awarded farthest away from the entrance.

Also, learn relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises done for 10 minutes a couple of times per day will decrease your stress, lower your blood pressure and improve your concentration. Also decrease your caffeine intake, as the drug can make you jittery and disrupts your sleep, Sack advises. And perhaps most importantly, forge strong relationships with your co-workers. According to an online corporate health newsletter, a sense of belonging and attachment to a group of coworkers is a better motivator for some employees than money. The newsletter cites a University of Iowa study that was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Oh, and one more thing for the healthy modern worker: Don’t forget to frequently wash your hands.

Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California. He can be reached at