A woman sits in a chair holding a remote.

If your job involves working at a computer, then you’ve probably heard advice about how to adjust your chair, position your monitor, and organize your desk for optimum ergonomic ease and comfort. 

But according to the data analytics firm Nielsen, Americans are spending almost as much time watching TV as they are working: 5 hours per day on average in the first quarter of 2016.

“The same things apply whether you’re sitting at a computer or sitting in a recliner watching television,” says Karen DeChello, O.T.D., clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy at Stony Brook University in New York.

We spoke with experts to get tips on using the principles of ergonomics (fitting your workspace to your body for health and safety) to improve your binge-watch posture and make your leisure time as pain-free as possible.

Binge-Watch Posture Tips

Get up and move around. A common and key piece of advice for people who do office desk work is to get up and move around every 15 to 30 minutes or so. A good deal of research suggests this is optimal for health. For instance, a 2017 study in Annals of Internal Medicine found that sitting for long periods of time without interruption was linked with an overall increased risk of death—but that getting up and moving around every half hour helps mitigate the risk.

more on binge watching

That applies if you’re sitting at a desk working—or lounging at home watching Netflix, says Kevin Weaver, D.P.T., clinical assistant professor of physical therapy at New York University. Make a point to get up and move around a few times every hour. Do a few exercises, go get yourself a snack from the kitchen, or just take a few laps around your living room.

Avoid bad posture. The experts we spoke with all recommended positioning yourself so that you don’t have to rotate your neck or back in order to see the screen. That can put stress on your joints and cause soreness, Weaver says. And make sure your lower spine is supported. “Push yourself back into the couch as much as possible so it does support your trunk,” he suggests, and try putting your legs up on a foot rest or coffee table with the knees slightly bent.

If you’re watching in bed on your laptop, he says, the same principles apply: Give your back and neck plenty of support with pillows. He suggests bending your knees slightly in bed as well, placing another pillow on your legs and resting your laptop on top of the pillow. That way your screen is positioned high enough that you don’t have to bend your head downward to watch. Slumped or hunched posture in bed can lead to back and neck pain, so you should try to avoid it as much as you can.

Change your position. After a rough day at work, you may find yourself in a less-than-ideal binge-watch position—curled up on your side with your head resting on the arm of the couch, for instance. If that’s the case, advises Jean Weaver, M.B.A., physical therapist and assistant professor at the University of Findlay in Ohio, just make sure you’re changing the position you’re in every so often.

After you get up to move around, when you sit back down, make sure you’re in a new position—curled up with your head on the opposite arm of the couch, for example.

Don’t watch on your phone. It may be tempting to watch video on your phone while you’re on public transit, riding as a car passenger, or even sitting around at home. Resist this impulse, recommends Kevin Weaver. When using a smartphone to watch video, many people hold their phones in their laps. But bending your neck downward means risking pain and soreness.

You could hold up your phone to eye level—but you’ll quickly tire out your arms. Weaver says it’s much better to wait until you get home and use your TV or computer to binge.

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Easy Couch Stretches

If you’ve been sitting a while and notice your back and neck are getting sore, you may want to stand up and try a few easy stretches. Kevin Weaver says in general, your goal should be to stretch out in directions opposite of however your body was just positioned.

Back stretch. Clasp your hands behind your back with your elbows straight. Tilt your sternum upward, so you get a stretch across the front of your upper torso. This works against any slumping or rounding of the shoulders you might do while watching TV. You could also stretch your back by laying on the floor with a pillow underneath your back and stretch your arms out to the side.

Neck stretch. To loosen up your neck after looking in one direction for a while, simply look to your left over your shoulder as far as you can, then look to the right. Or remain facing forward, but bend your head down toward your left shoulder, come back up, then bend your head down toward the right shoulder.