How to Work Long Periods at Your Desk and Come Out Healthy

How to Work Long Periods at Your Desk and Come Out Healthy

September 13, 2010 by

I think it’s safe to say that most of us find ourselves in front of a computer screen for up to very periods everyday. This has been a personal concern of mine for some time when I think about how much time in a lifetime I might be transfixed to the screen, though I don’t think for many of us there is much of an alternative available as yet.

Therefore, I’ve got together some useful tips for dealing with the negative effects (including eye problems, weight gain, and repetitive strain) of working at your desk for long periods. Obviously I’m not a doctor, so only take these tips as suggestions and not official advice.

Sit Properly!

The most important tip for staying healthy at your desk is to maintain a correct posture.

Be sure that your body is directly in front of your screen, so you are not twisting your torso.  Keep your feet on the floor or on a footrest and try not to cross your legs. It’s easy to slip out of a routine in sitting well, so get something to remind you to sit up on your desk, like a big fluffy banana.

Invest in a Good Chair

The first step to achieving good posture is finding a good chair.  It is wise to invest in a chair known for it’s good support for desk-workers such as the Aeron.

Think of how it will help you in the long run. Be sure to choose one with plenty of lumbar support and one that has wheels so you can turn in your desk without twisting your body.

Get an Ergonomic Keyboard

If you’re working on a laptop, this won’t apply to you, but if you’re working on a desktop, take a look at the range of ergonomic keyboards on the market.

Ergonomic keyboards are designed to minimize muscle strain and reduce the chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, which can be crippling to some computer workers.

Stop and Stretch Regularly

A quick Google search will reveal a plethora of nutty exercises, exercise equipment, gadgets and other ideas that will help keep you fit at your desk.  The majority of them are fairly ludicrous and impractical.  However, the ideas are good and it is important to keep mobile at your desk.

The most important exercises you can do involve your feet.  Stop every hour or so and make circles with your feet to mobilize your ankles and do foot pumps for example. Place your toes on the ground and lift your ankles in a pumping maneuver.  It’s also a good idea to do circles with your hands a couple of times a day to keep your wrists supple.

Avoid Carpal Tunnel with a Wrist Pad

If you’re using a laptop and you are worried about carpal tunnel (yeah, I’d never heard of it either), or you have experienced this at some point, you should think about purchasing a gel wrist pad, which you place just in front of your laptop.

It will help to keep your wrists elevated and comfortable, thus reducing the restriction on the nerves in your hands.

Don’t Eat and Work

One of the greatest problems with desk-based jobs these days is that people are gaining weight through lack of activity and mixing food with working at our desks.  Constant grazing while working is a problem for many of us and the bottom line is we’re simply not burning enough calories to justify the amount of food we eat.

Keep eating separate from work, and you’ll find you eat less. Get out and breathe some fresh air on your snack breaks.

Breaks Away From the Computer

Every hour, stand up from the computer and have a short walk around.  Heck, throw on some music and have a five-minute dance about. It’ll cheer you up too and clear your head. Take advantage of large downloads or installs on your computer to take a few minutes away from the computer.

Just keep taking breaks at least once an hour. Seriously.

Avoid Caffeine

Pumping our bodies with caffeine may help us stay focused for short periods, but you’ll crash after it wears off and you’ll be inclined to keep drinking/eating more. Replace your intake with other things like juice, but ideally:

Drink Plenty of Water

Water is the fuel that will keep you best focused and feeling most vitalized, even though it doesn’t seem so. Water also helps your body stay strong and healthy and will reduce your appetite. Water is gasoline for humans. Drink it and drink it a lot.

Check Your Eyes

Eye health or lack thereof, is another issue facing people who use computers for long hours every day.  To ensure optimum eye health, visit your optician for regular check-ups.  Noticing deterioration in eyesight quickly is key in maintaining good optical health.  If you are prescribed glasses, wear them!

Good Lighting

Our eyes need good levels of light to be able to work properly.  Make sure the area around your computer is well-lit.  If you have access to natural light, use it, but light in addition to the screen is important too.

Look Out of the Window

Every thirty minutes or so, have a look out of the window.  If you haven’t the fortune of having a room with a window, get out and train your eyes on something in the distance to redress the balance of looking at things close up.

Combine this with your break if you can.  It’s important for you to refocus your eyes regularly to avoid eye strain.

Use an Anti-Glare Screen

Some people find that fitting their computer with an anti-glare screen can help reduce eye strain and headaches from computer use.  It will also reduce reflection, which can be a big plus, depending on your working environment.

If you have more ideas for staying healthy at your desk, give us a shout and leave a comment below!

About the Author: Alex Mathers

Alex is a project starter, sometimes finisher, writer and illustrator. He started Red Lemon Club in 2009 with the aim of helping talented creative people leave their mark.

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"Your blog inspires me so much, and helps me feel somehow not as insignificant, despite the plethora of artists around the world."Natalie, artist

  • http://davidrvallejo.com/ David Vallejo

    Thanks for sharing these great ideas. I know I have a bad habit of just plugging away at projects with not enough breaks, but it is so important to unplug every now and then. I am acutally planning on designing and building a work area consisting of a drawing table and computer desk that allows me to stand or sit as I work. I think having the option to stand or sit is good to keep from getting stiff and slouching.

  • http://www.andrewwendling.com Andrew

    Getting up every once in a while is great, and helps me stay focused when I am back at my comp. My trick is to drink a ton of water – that way you are required to get up every 30-40 minutes to go to the boys room and you don’t forget to get up!

  • Alex Mathers

    @David – your standing/sitting work area sounds very interesting – I’d like to hear about it, but yes, standing is another option many of us forget about and can really put an end to slouching over our desks.

    @Andrew – Good idea :) Get drinking that water!

  • http://anelllya@blogspot.com Anelia

    Good advices! I can add one: Take on doing sport – swimming, running anythink you might feel conmortable with… :) And Good Luck!

  • http://anelllya@blogspot.com Anelia

    *it´s anything there … Sorry

  • http://veronikamarosy.com Veronika Marosy

    Yeah, i’ve made an illustration about eye exercises and printed it on a folded card that you can put next to your computer to remind you. Here is the illu if you’re interested:
    http://veronikamarosy.com/illustrations/part-3-giving-your-eyes-a-break/

    it really is refreshing to do every now and than :)

  • http://dannyk.wordpress.com/ Danny Khoury

    I use the software Time Out (freeware) and it is really helpful in reminding me to take breaks!
    Just don’t get the habit of skipping them even if you have something at hand… well maybe delaying 5 min would be fine.

    PS. you can download at http://www.dejal.com/timeout/

  • http://www.riseart.com Rise Art

    Great advice, thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.riseart.com Rise Art

    All of this is great advice. Thank you for sharing! drinking water and walking around a little always helps us feel better!

    – The Rise Art Team

  • http://www.newmandi.com Leslie

    Great advice. Thanks!
    Another tip: a graphics tablet, like the Wacom Intuos (or inexpensive Bamboo) relieves stress from too much mouse gripping. It helped me avoid tendonitis and carpal tunnel. Tablets aren’t just for artists.
    BTW- you’d see your “optometrist” for an eye exam. An optician is a person who assists you when you get prescription eyeglasses.

  • Alex Mathers

    Great advice, the tablet is something I use a lot as a replacement for standard ‘mouse’ movements to save from too much gripping as you say. Good advice.

  • http://www.vmillustrations.com Veronika Marosy

    Sorry, i posted here already… I didn’t realize it was an older one. :)

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  • Clash

    About the “Avoid Carpal Tunnel” When you use a Wacom All day long, what I have used is that wearing a whool or leather glove helps me to maintain the heat in my hand, so I have never had the problem. Of course I have to stop working for some hours if had not stop of working in the past whole night. I don’t know if it’s healty accurate enough or a good tip for those who also use more a Wacom tablet than mouse.

    Feedback is also welcome, is health for “Everything in the world’s” sake, if I am doing this wrong tell me to keep my hand safe instead of loosing it xD.

  • Alex Mathers

    wow – nice suggestion! wonder what others think…

  • Yaga Baba

    For those working long hours with a mouse: get vertical mouse.

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