Photo courtesy of Flickr: Russell Sprague
From typing up business reports to blogging at home, the Internet is used more on a daily basis than ever before. An average person spends seven hours every day on the computer or phone or in front of the television. The computer is a wonderful tool, but as with any tool, there are risks to its use, particularly with the extensive work that comes from a typical desk job. Working at the computer each day can result in sore eyes, headaches, and a stiff neck or wrists. If left unchecked, these mild annoyances may develop into a more serious condition, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. There are simple ways to help avoid these health complications, but in order to correct bad computer habits, it is important to understand why these problems arise in the first place.
Effects on Posture
Posture is one of the biggest problems facing computer users. Leaning too far forward to see the screen can place undue stress on your neck, shoulders, and lower back. Similarly, if your feet do not rest comfortably on the floor, you may notice muscle cramps or aching in your calves and ankles. Good posture also contributes to a boost in mood, which can mean the difference between a long, dragging day at the office and a fast-paced, positive experience. Many people tend to lean forward over their desks or on the edge of their chairs, which can actually compress the spine and result in a neck cramp at the end of the workday. Be conscious of your posture, and if you notice yourself slumping at work, take a moment to readjust yourself and sit up straight in your chair.
Effects on Eyes and Wrists
Since commands are given to the computer through the keyboard, it makes sense that the wrists and fingers would bear a large brunt of the average desk workload. Similarly, your eyes are under a tremendous amount of strain to constantly process the images from the computer screen. The human eye is designed to comfortably see from three to 20 feet, and a computer screen is usually within 20 inches of the face. Because the eyes are constantly refocusing on the information being displayed on the computer, they can dry out very easily and become tired from the exertion.
There are only a few simple adjustments necessary to protect the wrists. If using a mouse with the computer, keep it close to the keyboard to minimize reach. Keeping the wrists aligned in a straight line with the forearm will help reduce stress on the wrist itself. When it comes to protecting your eyes, a small bottle of eye drops may be all that's necessary to reduce discomfort. If you find yourself leaning in close to the screen to read, check to make sure that you don't need glasses. Alternatively, most computers have a setting that allows the user to adjust the font size. Adjusting screen resolution might eliminate the urge to lean in altogether.
Effects on Overall Health
Regardless of whether or not someone exercises regularly throughout the week, the key to maintaining health is to constantly move. Periods of extended inactivity, such as sitting at the computer for hours at a time, can increase the mortality rate for adults by 20%. Sitting motionless at the computer desk can change how the human body metabolizes food and makes it easier for fats to settle in the body. Getting up and moving around, even for five minutes each hour, can help keep the body active and can give the mind (and eyes!) an opportunity to refresh.
Ways to Alleviate Symptoms
There's no specific list of things to fix to avoid computer-related health problems - everyone works differently. Take a look at your own unique computer habits and decide what solutions are best for you. Rearranging or replacing your office furniture can greatly reduce the stress placed on your body by making sure that everything is easy to access. A chair with lower back support can help support the natural curve of the spine, and making sure that the seat of the chair is slightly sloped forward will help readjust the pelvis and the legs into a more comfortable position. A change as simple as keeping the computer screen closer to the edge of the desk can help eliminate the tendency to lean the neck and head forward. To prevent aches and increase your energy levels, you can perform a few routine stretches every hour or so. Ultimately, the goal is to make sure that you feel your best and to make work a little less of a job and a little more of an enjoyment.