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Hey, I am a med student who likes to write. Each week I provide a handful of tips that will help you in your quest to become healthier.

19 Hacks to Stay Healthy at Your Workstation

Written: 11/13/2007

Being a blogger is very fun but the amount of time we spend at our workstation can be detrimental to our health, moreover if you are planning to work at home if you are not already doing so. The problems associated with working on a computer are various ranging from back pain, wrist pain, RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) in your upper limb parts, sore neck and other countless trouble such as degrading eyesight and stress. Repetitive strain injury is any injury that occurs as a result of repeated movements. It is normally associated to pains in your upper limbs (hands, arm, back and neck) as a result of excessive computer use. Hopefully the following hacks will help you avoid this injury and other health trouble associated with your workstation.

  1. Take regular breaks: Now that is one outdated piece of advice you have heard plenty of times but it still holds true. The main cause of RSI is that many computer geeks just can't tear themselves away from their pc for long. I was like that at one time but fortunately I got over this. I use a regular alarm clock which goes off 1 hour after I've started working. I then take a 10 minutes break before getting back to work and setting my alarm clock again. For those of you who lack the necessary motivation or just can't stand the sound of an alarm clock, fortunately there are many software which help you avoid RSI by monitoring your computer and giving you discreet reminders if you work for too long without taking that necessary break. They are Albion StopNow, Easy HR, Coffee Break Pro 2.2, RSI Shield 4.5.1, Workrave and AntiRSI.

  2. Proper keyboard, monitor and mouse positioning: Ergotron has various measurements about angles,etc... on this stuff but the general guidelines are to always have your monitor below your eye level and about one arm length from your eyes so as not to put a strain on your eyes. As much as possible use both of your hands on the keyboard instead of only one when you are typing.

  3. Discard Qwerty and Azerty: Although I can touch type on both Qwerty and Azerty keyboards, I'm thinking of doing an overhaul and actually going back to a type of keyboard which is not well-known, the Dvorak keyboard. Here is a piece of history. Qwerty was actually developed in 1860s for typewriters. Notice if you are using a Qwerty keyboard that most of the time when you are writing a word, you go from one side of the keyboard to another. That was to avoid typewriters from becoming jammed by slowing the typists and making them type from two extremes. The advantage that Dvorak has over a normal Qwerty keyboard is that it is far more efficient if you have mastered it properly and most important of all, it poses less strain on your hands unlike Qwerty.

  4. Arrange your PC parts properly: If you are like Bill Gates and you need 3 monitors to read emails, then it will be a good idea to align the monitors side by side and not place them in various corners of your room. I know of some people who love to wring their necks to read from one monitor to another. Do this for a few months and you may find yourself victim of a Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease (Chronic Neck Pain).

  5. Do some desk exercises: No I'm not telling you to put on your gear and go running but simply do some desk exercises from time to time at your desk to relax your tensed muscles.

  6. Use an adjustable chair: Adjust yourself properly on your chair before starting to work. If you are less fortunate like me and do not own an adjustable chair, then drop a few cushions on the chair before sitting on it. This will prevent you from getting cramps in your legs and buttock. Yes you do get cramps there.

  7. Adjust your workstation to your stature: Sometimes your workstation may be too low or too high for you and that can be a real pain if you have to bend over your computer for a very long time. So in order to prevent future irreversible pain, take the time to invest in a cheap and proportionate furniture that will be adjusted to your height and size. Ergotron has a workplace planner to make your workstation fit you.

  8. Discard the Headset for a mic: For those of you who are always on a conference call on Skype, then it is time for you to get rid of the headset and to simply use a mic and your regular desktop speakers. Constant use of a headset can impair your hearing, your movement and stability. It also irritates your ears.

  9. Proper Lighting: Never use your workstation in a dark room unless you want to damage your eyes. Always light the room in which you are working. Avoid harsh or diffused lighting. Adjust the lighting to a comfortable level for your eyes. Always have the lighting source above and behind you. Do not place your desktop lamp directly behind you to avoid projecting shadows on your monitor. Also adjust the brightness and luminosity of your monitor according the lighting intensity of your lamp.

  10. Warm up: I actually do some stretching of my arms, shoulders and wrists before sitting down to work. I recommend you do Elbows Back, Shoulder Strangle, Bicep-Wall Stretch, Hand Down Spine, Upward Stretch and Chin to Chest Front among the various stretching exercises. It will take you about 5 minutes in all and will condition your body for a sedentary work.

  11. Avoid the coffee: In order to get the work done, many people tend to drink coffee to pep them up. This is a very bad practice. Although caffeine will stimulate you for sure, you will feel very exhausted after your work and the coffee is over. So avoid this bad habit as from now. Drink a juice or better a glass of water and take short breaks to resource yourself and recover your stamina.

  12. Take a cold bath: Always take a cold bath before working at your desk. A cold bath brings the body to activity, in the morning or in the afternoon, especially for sedentary persons.

  13. Listen to your body: If you are feeling drowsy while working, then listen to your body and take a power nap to get yourself back in condition. It's your body's usual response to fatigue and if you try to work under these conditions, you will get very little work done.

  14. Maintain an optimum temperature: Working in a stuffy room is irritating and counter-productive. Likewise working in a cold room is very difficult. If you are feeling cold, then invest in a small heater and if you are feeling hot in your room, then buy a small office fan or better aerate the room by opening your window.

  15. Use the necessary supports for your body: Use trays for your wrists, arm rests for your arms and high chairs to support your back. Do note that sometimes it is more comfortable for your wrists not to use trays. Experiment and adapt.

  16. Avoid pounding on the keyboard: Type with a smooth, zen-like movement and you will find yourself working faster. If you just can't get the character unless you have to press hard on the keyboard, then it's time to get a new keyboard.

  17. Use your laptop effectively: In a previous article, we mentioned that laptops were linked to various health problems like infertility and groin burns. Avoid using the laptop on your lap. Instead use a rest for your laptop or put it on a table or desk. Allow proper circulation of air around your laptop.

  18. Do some deep breathing: Sometimes when you have been working for some time, your head starts do get crowdy. Do some deep breathing and open your windows to let fresh air in. Inspire and expire deeply for about 1 minute and you will find your head starting to clear up.

  19. Don't stop the music: For this one, Rihanna was right on the spot. Sometimes it is good for you to listen to some soft music when you are working. Personally I have found this one working for me.

Also check out this great tutorial on Office Ergonomics. If you have other tips on making your workstation stress and RSI-proof, do share it with us please.

- Gyanish

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