The Core Truth: Tips for remaining healthy while working at a desk

Published On
Aug 15, 2022

This article is a bit more personal than I prefer, but this information is very important to anyone whose career is mostly spent working at a desk. I have fallen into the “I need to finish this project first” trap. Anyone who puts their work in front of their health eventually pays for it, and I am no exception. It seems I need to remember that health comes first.

It started with a few aches and pains while working. Sore wrists and forearms, stiff fingers, a pinch in my neck and a stitch in my side. Eventually, it got to the point that I could not sit at my desk for an hour without suffering a lot of discomfort. This was puzzling, since I was exercising about twice a week. It turns out I was not doing it enough, and not in the ways my body required.

Finding the issues

My bad habits started when I was in my 20s. I was always an active kid, playing various sports and participating in other physical activities.

I started working at a wholesale house in 1971, where I held very active positions driving a truck and staffing the warehouse and will-call sales counter. Around 1976, I was promoted to price clerk. I had really been looking forward to working in an air conditioned office and sitting in a chair, but I wish I knew then what I know now. I should have increased my physical activity when I took that promotion.

What’s so important about the core?

So how did I mess up this time? I thought I was doing well: pedaling a stationary bike and doing upper-body resistance workouts every week. My arms and legs have benefited, but it turns out I have been ignoring my core.

The core muscles are in the upper and lower torso. This group enables you to bend forward, as in a crunch. My weak core causes me to slouch when sitting and standing.

The first “core” muscles that most people think of are the abdominals—the ones that can give you a six pack. However, there are many other muscle groups that need to be maintained to help stabilize the spine and pelvis, protect your organs, prevent injuries, help with balance and enable breathing.

Since I lack strength and endurance in these muscles, it is hard for me to sit at my desk for long. Since it is hard to sit up straight, I find I am leaning on my left elbow, which causes pain in my neck, shoulder, elbow and left side. I have also found myself putting more weight on my wrists, which can cause repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Fixing the symptoms

Now that I know what I have been doing wrong, how do I fix it? Since I am not a health professional, I consulted my doctor to go over my options for regaining core strength the correct way. I also did some extensive reading about core strength before starting to write this article.

Common to most of the articles was a warning about the likelihood of injuring yourself if you go all-out trying to regain your strength, and most of the injuries doctors treated were related to weak core muscles. Another reason to see a doctor is that there are several diseases and conditions that can cause a weak core.

There are many other symptoms of core weakness, including back pain. If your core muscles cannot support your spine, it can become compressed, which can lead to spinal and nerve compression and disc herniation. Poor posture caused by a weak core can lead to digestive problems and acid reflux. Difficulty breathing and balance problems can also be symptoms.

Overall weakness can also indicate a poorly conditioned core. As the muscles stabilize your spine and pelvis, that helps transfer the strength needed to rapidly contract the muscles for more powerful movements. Throwing a ball, landing a punch or taking a forceful stride all originate to some degree from your core muscles. If the core area isn’t in condition, there won’t be as much strength behind your movements.

I have increased the frequency of my workouts and have added core exercises to my routine. To be the best I can be, physically and mentally, I have decided to be more mindful about taking time in my daily schedule to incorporate healthy behaviors.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen Carr has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or steve@electrical-estimating.com, and...

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