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Workplace Ergonomics: Tips to Staying Healthy at the Office

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Many jobs today require extensive periods of sitting and working in front of a screen. But studies show time and again just how bad this sedentary work arrangement is for our health. Humans were not meant to sit all day, but since most of us have to work for a living, we have to take a different approach to workplace health.

How Bad Is Sitting in Front of a Computer Screen?

Carpal tunnel, chronic back pain, headaches, and sciatica are just a few of the effects of sitting at a desk all day. Posture is a habit that often forms early in life, but even individuals with good posture droop their shoulders and round their backs during the workday. Over time, the practice pulls the spine out of alignment and weakens back and abdominal muscles.

Looking at a smartphone or squinting at a computer screen often brings the neck out of alignment, causing the head to pull forward in a condition that some physicians call “text neck.” The condition can cause lifelong problems if technology users aren’t aware and actively working against the temptation to constantly look down at a screen. Staring at a computer screen for too long at one time can cause strain, headaches, dry eye, and neck/shoulder pain.

While those conditions are irritating and can significantly reduce a worker’s quality of life, they aren’t as dangerous as the correlation between a sedentary lifestyle and an increased rate of death. Sitting for too long increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and fatality.

How Can I Reduce the Risks Associated With My Sedentary Job?

Employers have recognized the detrimental health effects associated with sitting at a desk all day, and many are willing to change. Some have invested in stand-up desks for workers to use throughout the day, and others are looking into using ergonomic equipment in the workplace per OSHA guidelines.

Ergonomics is the study of workplace efficiency and it can improve worker health in certain environments while also improving productivity. Relaxed and comfortable workers tend to be more efficient.

Here are a few ways you can enhance the ergonomics and health of your own workplace environment:

  • Talk to your supervisor about accommodations. If you’re uncomfortable at your workstation, ask a supervisor about getting an ergonomic chair or a different desk environment. All employers should be open to discussing workplace accommodations.
  • Take regular breaks. While you may not be able to grab a coffee and talk around the water cooler every hour, it’s a good idea to get up and stretch and move around for a few minutes. Give your mind, eyes, and body a break before diving back into the task at hand.
  • Adjust your workstation. Modify your seat so you can comfortably reach items on your desk and keyboard without straining. Place your monitor at a comfortable eye-level and adhere to the 20-20-20 rule.
  • Practice good posture. Set a timer on your computer or smartphone once a week for posture checks every 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, reorient your body. Roll your shoulders up and back, straighten your spine, and sit back into the seat of your chair. Your feet should sit uncrossed and flat on the floor.
  • Change positions. Sitting in one position all day will leave you feeling stiff. Change the way you sit often with small adjustments, and stretch your arms, wrists, and fingers throughout the day.
  • Practice breathing. Many of us breathe shallowly when we’re not actively focused on breathing. Take a few minutes throughout the day to focus on your breath. Breathe deeply and exhale fully to feel more alert and keep your circulation strong.