Creating a More Healthful Workstation

Sit up straight. Stand tall. Don’t slouch. Mom always had a way of telling us how to “defy gravity.” As is with most things Mom taught us, it’s not until we’re older that we better understand those subtle commands, let alone appreciate them. If you work in an office setting, I’ll bet if you turn around right now you will find a few dozen offenders of mom’s regulations. Perhaps you won’t even have to go that far and just take a look at yourself.

If your job requires several hours sitting at a desk, chances are gravity is already having its way with you. The slouched sitting position; the craned neck; the rounded shoulders; the wrist pain; even the expanding waistline. Who ever thought sitting could be so hard? The fact is, sitting is very bad for us.  It shortens the muscles involved in trunk extension, including those of the neck and back of the legs, or hamstrings. It weakens the muscles involved in trunk flexion and spinal support, namely the abdominals and longitudinal muscles of the spine. What’s more, sitting is as big a calorie sparing activity as lying down, although you do burn plenty of calories while sleeping. Aside from getting up from your desk every twenty minutes, which may or may not be feasible, what is one to do to make things better?

The good news is that you can indeed create what is known as a more ergonomical work station, or a more properly positioned one. It does not involve any super special upgrades and may cost you absolutely nothing, but the rewards will be invaluable. We say in the health and fitness industry that it’s the little things that make a difference, and none could be truer then following some of these tips for a more healthful workstation.

• Chair. The very first step should be to improve on where you’re going to be spending most of your time, despite the negative drawbacks. Seat height should be adjustable so that your feet rest flat on the floor, with your spine and head upright. Lumbar pillows or supports are a good idea, especially for those with very concave low backs or who experience low back pain. Another suggestion would be to investigate the use of a kneeling posture ergonomic chair or an exercise ball chair. Both certainly may take some time getting used to and may raise a brow or two among your colleagues, but your postural muscles will get stronger and defy gravity and you may experience more energy, even while sitting.

• Computer monitor. Situate the monitor at eye level with keyboard directly in front of you, rather than to the side. You shouldn’t have to turn your head to view the computer screen. Also, a monitor magnifier may not be a bad idea to make things larger than they appear. It doesn’t say your blind, but you won’t have to crane your neck to read your e-mail either.

• Keyboard. The ideal or recommended position is at elbow level when seated, which will prevent strain on the shoulders, forearms, and wrists. Most office supply stores also sell gel pads for not only mouse pads but keyboards as well to prevent excess strain and pressure to the carpal tunnel of the wrist.

• Computer mouse. Keep it close to the keyboard and avoid extended arm reaches to minimize arm or wrist strain.

• Lighting. Most people don’t give lighting much thought, but millions of dollars are spent each year on lighting research and it’s affect on our moods, energy level, and desire to spend. (Casinos in Las Vegas have it down to a science.) Prevent eyestrain by supplementing your office light with a desk lamp or get a Bright Light from Sharper Image which provides radiant light just as in summer on those dark, dreary, or wintry days.

• Snacks. Keep a piece of fruit or two on your desk.  When you get a sweet tooth or craving, instead of reaching for your cubicle mate’s candy jar, eat a piece of nature’s candy.  Yes, it too is sugar, but it has less calories, more vitamins and minerals, and will satisfy you quicker and longer. Furthermore, if done consistently, it will go a long way to preventing you from eating too much at your next big meal.

There’s still no substitute for getting up from your workstation several times throughout the workday. The more you can move around and about, stand up, get the circulation moving, and get oxygen to places it needs to go, namely the brain, you will feel not only more energized but healthier.  Now, if we could only believe what mom said about eating your vegetables.