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

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Many of us spend the better part of the day in front of a computer. It’s no wonder that eye strain, back, shoulder and wrist-aches are on the rise. Follow these six tips to help prevent health problems from computer or gadget use:

  1. Set up your computer properly

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

    • Center your monitor with the screen tilted slightly upward – This allows you to see the entire screen clearly without having to move your head or shifting to a bad posture.
    • Sit an arm’s length away – Sit an arm’s length from your computer to prevent eye strain. If your monitor is 20 inches or larger, you will have to sit further back.
    • Position your computer screen properly – Your eye level should be about 2-3 inches below the top of the monitor.
    • Beware of glare – Remove sources of glare. These cause you to squint, thereby causing eye strain or headaches. Find these spots by turning your monitor off and examining any reflections visible on it.
    • Balance the brightness of your monitor – Ideally, your monitor’s brightness should be equal to the brightness of the area directly behind it. Prevent uneven brightness (which causes headaches or vision issues) by adjusting monitor settings accordingly.
    • Adjust your font size and color – The size of the text on your screen should be two or three times the size of the smallest text that you can read. Also, 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 for those 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.

  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). Doctors suggest taking frequent breaks as well as:

    • 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:

    Adjustable or standing desks can also help minimize the time you spend seated. If you’re serious about fitness, you can opt to use an exercise ball as a seat. This will help improve your balance and strengthen core muscles. There are also treadmill desks that allow you to walk while working. That’s multi-tasking to max! Talk to your boss about these options if you’re interested.

  4. Use ergonomic chairs and tables

    If you don’t have access to treadmill or standing desks, make sure that your computer table and chair are designed for working. Ergonomic furniture minimize discomfort and fatigue. Generally, your chair should have proper lumbar support (supports your lower back) and is adjustable to your table and computer monitor height. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), it is important for office furniture to be adjustable to fit the height and size of each user. To know more about ergonomic office furniture, read OSH Fact Sheets.

  5. Drink lots of water

    Proper hydration is important when working in front of the computer all day. Put a glass of water nearby so it’s easily accessible (and you don’t forget). You can also walk to the water cooler every now and then to break 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 disrupt sleep patterns (Blue light from electronics disturbs sleep, especially for teenagers). Lack of quality sleep may put you at risk for other health concerns such as chronic fatigue, heart disease, diabetes, even depression. To prevent this, adjust your gadget’s screen to a dimmer setting or install an app to minimize blue light. Better yet, stop using your gadget near sleeping time. Just use an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning instead of keeping your phone near your bed.

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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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