Quickly, calculate how much time you spend in front of digital devices, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones. Be honest.
According to a recent Nielsen report, American adults now spend about 11 hours per day on technology — that’s about two-thirds of the time we’re awake — and the number climbs higher for those who work in front of a monitor at the office. Americans are now sitting an average of 12- to 13 hours a day, says Ergotron, a manufacturer of office-related products.
If this sounds familiar, you bet your bitmaps there are health concerns with our sedentary work culture.
And so, take heed to these following “ergonomic” tips to healthier computer use, whether it’s during your 9-to-5 work life or 5-to-9 downtime, or both.
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Reduce the odds you’ll suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries. Choose a computer mouse that’s comfortable for you. Mice should have a curved hump that fits the contours of your palm. Many today are designed for both left- and right-handed users.
Wireless mice provide fewer movement restrictions than wired mice, allowing you to play it on the desk in a comfortable position. When you use a mouse, try to limit your wrist limit — instead, move your forearm, and with your elbow pivoted.
If you use a laptop with a trackpad, connect an external mouse for better comfort.
“Ergonomic” mice are designed with your body in mind. The latest from Logitech is the MX Vertical Advanced Ergonomic Mouse ($99), a unique PC accessory with a 57-degree vertical angle that allows for a “handshake” grip for greater comfort. The mouse also straddles the line between design and performance — what the MX series is best known for — and it’s precise and programmable, which is important to gamers, too.
If it’s still uncomfortable to use a mouse or if you experience wrist discomfort, try a trackball instead, as you simply roll your fingertips on the top of the peripheral.
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The key(board) to success
On a desktop computer, choose an ergonomic keyboard that could help reduce wrist strain — these typically are curved to more naturally fit the angle of your wrists (place your hands on a desk and you’ll see they point inwards). Some ergonomic keyboards have a split keyboard, too.
If you’re on a laptop you can always plug in a larger and more ergonomic keyboard when in one location for a while (though not ideal for an airplane, of course). Keep in mind, some small Chromebooks and iPad cases with keyboards generally have smaller keys, which could prove uncomfortable.
Try to keep your wrists almost floating above the keyboard so your hands can easily move to reach far keys (e.g. the G or H keys) rather than trying to stretch your fingers to reach them because your palms are mounted. You might consider a padded or gelled wrist rest that sits in front of the keyboard.
Finally, learn keyboard shortcuts so it reduces the need for multiple keystrokes.
Recommendations include Microsoft’s Surface Ergonomic Keyboard or Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop ($129 each), both of which offers a natural arc and slope.
Have a seat (or stand)
It won’t cost you much these days, so be sure to pick up a decent office chair with lower back support. And your mom was right — posture is important, too — so stop yourself from leaning in towards the monitor. Instead, sit back all the way.
If you can, choose a chair with wheels so you could better position yourself for added comfort. Learn about the adjustment features of your chair, if it offers any. Look for one with armrests.
Both your feet should be flat on the floor — vertically challenged folks (like yours truly) should use a small step-stool or milk crate to rest your feet on under the desk. Your keyboard and mouse should be at about elbow level, so adjust your chair’s height accordingly.
Risking neck issues, those who work from home should resist working on a laptop while reclined on a sofa or in bed.
An increasingly popular option is a standing desk, which has you standing rather than sitting to promote more muscular use and better blood flow. Many of these desks are height-adjustable, too, which let you manually (or electronically) change orientation from standing to sitting, and back again, on-demand. Fellowes is about to launch a series of adjustable work desks for 2019, in three sizes, and in several color options.
There are also Sit-Stand Workstations that sit on top of a traditional desk and balance ball chairs, which some employees swear by.
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When in your chair, be sure to swivel your chair so you’re facing the monitor straight-on so you’re not putting strain on your neck. Your monitor should be at eye level and should tilt left and right and swivel up and down — to help you find the most comfortable angle.
There are also wall mounts, including retractable and adjustable monitor “arms” from companies like Ergotron.
If you get to choose your monitor for work, I’d recommend a larger screen (24 inches and bigger), so you don’t have to squint to see the font on a small monitor (or at the very least, increase the font size). Have adequate overhead lighting so you’re not straining your eyes to see the monitor.
Prices vary, but for $299 you can pick up a large 32-inch LG QHD LED IPS Monitor (model # 32QK500-W) or gamers who want something bigger, wider, and faster (to keep up with action games), there’s the top-of-the-line 34-inch LG GK950G UltraWide Curved Gaming Monitor ($1,399), with sphere lighting on the back.
Look away from your monitor every couple of minutes and close your eyes every few moments to give them a break, too.
“Dry eye” is becoming a common condition seen by optometrists, which is being attributed, in part, due to our reliance on digital displays, as we’re focusing on screens and blinking less often. Symptoms include a stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes, eye redness, sensitivity to light or perhaps some stringy mucus in or around your eyes. Many people opt for over-the-counter eye drops that provide instant hydration, such as Systane Complete Lubricant Eye Drops ($10 per bottle).
More ‘ergo’ tips and tricks
Take frequent breaks. Get up to get a drink of water, stretch and do some minor neck, back and arm exercises. You can also gently rub your muscles when you need a little break.
Perform these short stretches and exercises repeatedly throughout the day, even if it’s rolling your neck around, reaching up to the ceiling or walking around the office to stretch your legs.
If you use a phone all day, buy a hands-free headset, so you’re not trying to hold the phone between your neck and ear while typing at the same time.
Have any of your own “ergo” tips to share? Feel free to post them in the Comments section.
Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him at www.marcsaltzman.com