Health tips for computer users (or 6 ways to avoid dying at your desk)

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Laptops, tablets, and cell phones have become indispensable tools for living and working. You may find that a large part of your day is spent sitting in front of a computer, writing and checking information online. For new immigrants, this may involve hours of scouring the net for jobs, learning about your new environment through online articles, using the GPS on your phone, and checking your email for responses to your applications. It’s no small wonder that eye strain, back, shoulder, and wrist-aches, and other related ailments are on the rise.

So how do you strike a healthy balance between technology-use and good health? Here are 6 tips you can follow:

1. Set up your computer properly

The prevention of eye strain, backaches and neck and shoulder pain begins with the proper equipment and set up. Healthy suggests the following:

  • Center your monitor with the screen tilted slightly upward – this will enable you to view the entire screen clearly, so you won’t have to adapt by moving your head and neck, or shifting to a bad posture.
  • Sit an arm’s length away – to prevent eye strain, an arm’s length distance is best unless your monitor is 20 inches or larger in which case you have to sit further back.
  • Position the top of your screen level with your eyes – the ideal viewing height is to have your eyes level with an imaginary line across the screen, about 2-3 inches below the top of the monitor.
  • Beware of glare – remove sources of glare (which causes you to squint, thereby causing eye strain or headaches). You can find these by turning your monitor off and examining any reflections visible on it.
  • Balance the brightness of your monitor – the brightness of your monitor should be equal to the area directly behind it. Prevent uneven brightness (which causes headaches or vision issues) by adjusting monitor settings accordingly. You can usually find the monitor brightness settings by right-clicking on your desktop and choosing display settings.
  • Adjust your font size and color – the size of the text should ideally be two or three times the size of the smallest text that you can read. Black text on white works best.
  • Consider the swivel arm (if you continually interact with others while computing) – this tool enables you to swing your monitor out of the way when not in use and put it back in the proper position when you need it.

2. Protect your eyes

Eye strain is a common complaint from people who use computers for long periods of time. Medically, this is called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). Watch this video from CNET to know more about CVS and how to prevent it. Also read: Focus on eye health for computer users.

How to: Reduce computer-related eyestrain

3. Exercise/deskcercise

Did you know that sitting is now considered a “disease”? Studies show that prolonged sitting is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, cancer and death (Sitting for prolonged periods increases risk of death, disease: study, CTV News). Taking frequent breaks is not only good for your eyes but for your entire body. Doctors suggest:

  • Setting an alarm to remind you to take a break and exercise
  • Standing up and moving around for one to three minutes every half hour
  • Stretching your arms, legs, neck and torso (even while sitting)

You might find WikiHow’s “How to exercise while sitting at your computer” helpful or watch this video for simple stretches from Blue Cross Blue Shield ND:

Today’s modern workstations provide options to switch up positions throughout the day. Adjustable tables or standing workstations help minimize time spent seated. Some even replace their chairs every few minutes with an exercise ball to help them improve balance while exercising their core muscles (and having fun too). There are offices that even offer treadmill desks that allow you to walk while working. You can talk to your supervisor or boss about these options. If you are at home (or work from home) you can set up your desk to allow you to work while standing up (maybe try propping your computer on several books), or even make a makeshift treadmill desk.

4. Use ergonomic chairs/tables

If you don’t have access to a standing workstation or treadmill desk, at least make sure that the computer table and chair that you’re using are designed for working. They should help minimize discomfort and fatigue. Aside from having the right workstation, proper ergonomics includes the right lighting for working (see video from tip 2 above). Generally, your chair should have proper lumbar support (supports your lower back) and is adjustable to your table and computer monitor height. Preferably, it should not have an armrest and must not apply pressure to the back of your knees. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), it is important for office furniture to be adjustable to fit the specific requirements (height, size, use) of each user. To know more about ergonomic office furniture, read OSH Fact Sheets one of which shows a diagram of an ergonomic chair.

5. Drink lots of water

Proper hydration is important when working in front of the computer all day. Put a glass of water near you to make it easy for you to drink whenever you need to. Or, if you can remind yourself, walk to a water cooler every now and then to get a drink and take a break from continuous computer use.

6. Minimize use of computers and gadgets in the evenings

Blue light emitted by cell phones, computers or tablets have been found to wreak havoc on sleep patterns (Blue light from electronics disturbs sleep, especially for teenagers, by Meeri Kim, Washington Post). The lack of quality sleep may then put you at risk for other health concerns such as chronic fatigue, heart disease, diabetes, even depression. While you can adjust your gadget’s screen to a dimmer setting or even use apps to minimize blue light, the safest is still to refrain from using your gadget near sleeping time and not keeping it near your bed when you sleep. If you need an alarm to wake you up, just invest in a good old alarm clock instead of your phone.

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Community Resources

For more tips on safe and healthy work practices, visit Safe Work Manitoba. You can explore its Resources tab to access materials in various formats on ergonomics.

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Health tips for computer users (or 6 ways to avoid dying on your desk)

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