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Why your posture matters

You’ve likely heard that sitting is the new smoking. Research suggests sitting for most of your day increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Unfortunately, that’s almost all of us.

As technology keeps us strapped to computers and electronic devices, more of us are sitting for longer periods of time than ever before. And our health is suffering the consequences.

While you may not be able to swap your desk job for one that requires you to walk or stay active all day, there is one thing you can do to improve your health right now: Sit correctly.

To avoid the effects of a lifetime of sitting, read on to learn how to find and maintain good posture. Plus, find out which gadgets really are worth the money if you’re trying to protect your bones for the future.

Finding the correct position for sitting requires you to follow a few simple steps. Each time you sit down, quickly repeat these steps to help your body settle into its best position.

First, start by sitting at the end of your chair. Roll your shoulders and neck forward into a full slouching position. Then, slowly pull your head and shoulders up into a tall sitting position. Push your lower back forward and accentuate the curves of your spine. This will likely feel forced and uncomfortable, but hold for several seconds.

Release this sitting position slightly, and you’re sitting in a good posture position. Scoot yourself back in the chair until your back is against the chair and your hips are in the bend of the chair.

Now that you have your back in a good position, you need to address other factors that influence your posture, from where to put your feet to how far away your screen should be.

Check out: How to treat back pain at home »

Ergonomic desk chairs are designed to properly support your body and reduce stress and friction on bones and muscles while you sit. These chairs can be quite expensive and cost more than $100. If you’re not ready to make that investment, don’t worry. You can try several other things.

If your office chair doesn’t have a lumbar support, grab a small towel and roll it up. A small pillow will also work. When you slide back in your chair after finding your proper posture, place the towel or pillow between the chair and your lower back. This support device should help you maintain good posture. If the towel or pillow is too large, you could be forcing your spine into an awkward position that will be painful quickly.

You can also buy specially designed lumbar pillows, such as the Ziraki Memory Foam Lumbar Cushion. These devices mimic the support of a lumbar rest in your chair, and you don’t have to invest in a new chair.

Move your seat up or down until your legs are parallel with the ground and your knees are even with your hips. Your arms should be parallel to the ground, too.

Your feet should be resting on the floor. If they aren’t, use a stool or foot rest to elevate your feet until you are in this position.

Plant your elbows by your side, and extend your arms into an L-shaped bend. Arms that are extended too far out from your body could add stress to the muscles in your arms and shoulders.

Make sure your body weight is distributed evenly across your hips. Bend your knees at a right angle, and make sure your knees are either even with your hips or slightly below.

Your feet should be flat on the floor. If you’re wearing shoes with heels, removing them may be most comfortable. If your feet can’t reach the ground, use a foot rest. Adjustable ergonomic foot rests, like Halter’s Premium Ergonomic Foot Rest, let you find an angle of tilt and a height that works best for your natural posture alignment.

Don’t sit with your legs crossed. This can reduce blood flow and cause muscle strain.

Check out: Stretches to do at work every day »

From your seated position, move the screen directly in front of you. Extend your arm, and adjust the monitor until it’s about an arm’s length away.

Next, adjust how high the monitor is. The top of your computer’s screen should be no more than 2 inches above your eye level. Computer monitors that are too low or too high can strain your neck and eyes.

Stacks of books are an easy way to adjust your monitor’s height. If you’d like something more formal, a monitor desk stand is a simple device that can help. AmazonBasics Adjustable Monitor Stand is a simple table with column-style stackable legs. It can add almost 5 inches of height under your monitor.

Free-standing monitor mounts, like WALI Dual LCD Monitor Mount, allow for greater flexibility with adjustments. The arms allow you to adjust the screen’s height as well as the tilt.

Your keyboard should sit directly in front of your computer. Leave 4 to 6 inches between the edge of your keyboard and the desk so your wrists have room to rest while you type.

If your keyboard is tall and you must tilt your wrists at an awkward angle to type, look for a padded wrist rest. Ergonomic wrist pads like Glorious PC’s Gaming Wrist Pad can help position your hands evenly with your keyboard. Straining to type can cause muscle fatigue and pain.

Your computer mouse should be on the same surface as your keyboard, and it should be within easy reach. Stretching to reach any item could cause muscle strain and fatigue.

While you’re using your mouse, your wrist should be straight. Your upper arm should be by your side, and your hands should be slightly below your elbows.

An ergonomic computer mouse helps prevent wrist strain and fits your hand’s natural shape. Look for one with a low profile like Apple’s Magic Mouse 2.

Items you use frequently, such as a stapler, phone, or notepad, should be very close to you while you’re sitting. Stretching to reach items you need can strain muscles. Repeated twists and stretches may lead to joint pain.

If you spend a lot of time on a phone and typing or writing, use speaker phone. If that’s not an option, invest in a headset like Plantronics’ Over-the-Head Wireless Headset System. Bending your neck to cradle the phone can cause stiff muscles, pain, and even ligament damage over time.

Sitting for long periods of time can reduce blood flow and cause muscle fatigue. To prevent that, take frequent breaks. Stand up from your desk and move.

When you take a break, stand up and walk away from your desk if you can. Get your blood flowing by doing some calf raises and shoulder shrugs. If you have the room, practice a few lunges or squats.

Several short breaks during the day are better than just a few long breaks. If you can, take a one- to two-minute break every 30 minutes. At the very least, get up and move around every hour.

The modern workplace doesn’t invite much movement, and sitting all day can be detrimental to your health. Still, you can do a lot to improve your health just by improving your posture. Investing in a few ergonomically designed products and learning to sit properly can go a long way to reducing wear and tear on your muscles and bones. Over the course of your career, this can really pay off as you avoid injuries, strains, and soreness.

Keep reading: 10 Daily habits to stop back pain »