Life

Why Am I Physically Exhausted After Sitting Down All Day?

After hours behind a screen, we often feel weak. Here's how to counteract the fatigue.
Vincenzo Ligresti
Milan, IT
December 1, 2020, 1:20pm
People looking at their smartphone screens in front of their computer screens
Photo: Getty Images/Westend61. 

This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.

After sitting in front of a computer all day, I often feel exhausted, sore and generally unmotivated to do anything but curl up on the sofa. And it’s not just what you might describe as “mental fatigue” – I can really feel it in my body.

Psychologist Angelica Raucci says we often forget how much our body is connected to our mind. “We live in an age where the more you produce, the more accomplished you are,” she explains. “When we work, we tend to minimise emotional inputs. So, how can our mind show us we’re experiencing stress if not through physical symptoms?"

Studies have shown that prolonged mental fatigue can have an impact on your physical endurance.

“Carrying out a challenging cognitive task increases adenosine,” Raucci explains. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter involved in regulating cellular energy levels and sleep. Too much of it, and the nervous system can become sedated. “This accumulation causes a greater perception of effort during subsequent physical activity,” says Raucci.

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Instead of paying attention to what your body has been through only at the end of your day, she recommends practising mindfulness to recognise your body’s signals and anticipate tiredness.

Besides our minds playing tricks on us, sitting down for a long time can also cause more direct aches and pains. According to physiotherapist Giulia Messina, “Intensive use of computers and a non-ergonomic posture can cause generalised pain over time.” She says bad posture can be linked to neck pain, migraines, acid reflux and eye fatigue, among other ailments.

There are a few basic rules for good posture at work. “The PC monitor should be positioned so that we look at the centre of the screen, maintaining a horizontal gaze, at a 40 to 70 cm distance," says Messina. The keyboard should be placed so that our elbows form a 90-degree angle, and you might want to add a lumbar support pillow behind your lower back. Most importantly, you should try to move as often as possible.

“I recommend doing exercises every hour,” says Messina. "To start, you can do heel-toe movements with your foot on the ground. When you stand up, you can perform simple stretching exercises: shoulder rotations, head movements." She also recommends breathing exercises to refresh your body and mind: “It will increase your efficiency and improve your mood.”

According to the World Health Organisation, adults aged 18 to 64 should do 150 minutes of physical activity – like walking, dancing or gardening – or 75 minutes of exercise each week.

Plus: "Physical activity is an excellent escape route for the mind,” says Raucci. “It’s a way to get rid of built-up stress, negative emotions and even anxiety.” Of course, sleep is also incredibly important for energy levels and mental performance.

Unfortunately, your parents were right all along: you really should sit upright and take your eyes off your screen every once in a while – especially now the lines between work and home life are so blurred.