When you’re at the office, you’re probably hyper-focused on what you’re working on—which is, obvious, very important. But chances are that you’re not giving enough thought as to how you’re working. Here’s why you should.
The way you set up and sit at your desk is generally known as “ergonomics,” but the term actually encompasses much more than that. Ergonomics includes all the ways humans interact with the tools that they use to accomplish their jobs—whether that’s a jackhammer breaking up concrete or a computer keyboard and mouse for data input in an office, says Carrie Schmitz, senior manager of human factors and ergonomics research at Ergotron.
Plus, proper ergonomics can do more than just reduce back pain and stiff shoulders. “Ergonomics is the first line of defense in worker wellness; it can save billions of dollars in lost time, medical treatment, and pharmaceuticals, which is good news for the individual, for the employer, and the community at large,” Schmitz explains. When someone becomes burned out by work-related stress, symptoms can include neck and lower back pain, depression, anxiety, and even metabolic disorders such as type-2 diabetes.
That’s why it’s so important to think about the mind and body connection at work, Schmitz says. For instance, while we are all familiar with the overt signs of increased pressure on the spine caused by sitting and slouching, stiffness and soreness, few people realize that when they are sitting in a chair, even a very “comfortable” chair, they are experiencing strain on a cellular level. “With prolonged sitting, our cells can’t rid themselves of toxins which cause inflammation which exacerbate cardiovascular disease and some cancers,” she says.
The simple remedy: “Keep engaging the large, postural muscles, which stimulate fat-burning enzymes and to keep blood pumping sugar and oxygen that nourish our bodies and stimulate our brains,” Schmitz explains.
- Use an adjustable chair. Get comfortable with its features and make adjustments regularly.
- Rest your eyes periodically by focusing on an object 20+ feet away.
- Stand and stretch your back and arms from time to time.
- Position whatever you are looking at most of the time (the screen or reference material) directly in front of you to minimize turning your head.
- Remember that even if your workstation is set up properly, you can still get muscle fatigue from being in the same position for too long. Be sure to periodically adjust your monitor, keyboard or chair to stay flexible.
- Adjust the monitor height so that the top of the screen is at or slightly below eye level. Your eyes should look slightly downward when viewing the middle of the screen.
- Position the monitor no closer than 20 inches (508 mm) from your eyes. A good rule of thumb is an arm’s length distance. The larger your screen, the more distance you will want.
- Adjust the screen position to eliminate glare from windows and ceiling lights.
- If lighting conditions permit, tilt the monitor back 10° to 20°: this maintains the same distance between your eyes and the screen as you scan it from top to bottom. Exception: If using bifocals, lower the monitor below eye level and turn screen upward, tilting it back 30° to 45°.
- The center-line of the keyboard should be level with the height of your elbow.
- Tilt the keyboard back 10° so that your wrists remain flat.