In any given week, how much time to do you spend at a workstation? When considering this, count your job, your home office, time spent with a device or pen and paper (remember those?) at the counter, on the couch, or at a coffee shop. If we do this honestly, most of us can come up with 30-60 hours per week in which we are relatively stationary and focused on some sort of administrative or creative task. This can be ¼ to ½ our our life. And, being truthful, how many times have you found yourself stiff, tired, achy, or even in outright PAIN from this work?
Well, if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way, would you believe me? This is not about me being right, it’s about you being healthy and happy. Creating a healthy workstation is actually quite easy and simple, does not require elaborate equipment, cost, or effort, and is something we all can and should do to improve our health and longevity. Yes, it’s that serious. Prolonged sitting, stasis, and poor posture can cause our metabolisms to slow, our connective tissues to break down, and our risks for most lifestyle-related disorders including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular dysfunction, and many others to increase substantially.
So how do we avoid all these maladies and create a workstation that not only doesn’t hurt us, but actually helps us? The answer is that we employ good ergonomics and easy-to-use habits to keep our bodies, and minds, functioning optimally. And doing this also increases our productivity and job satisfaction at the same time it reduces error rate and injury risk. Whoa…where can I sign up?
I’ll briefly touch on 5 essential categories that you can consider to make your workstation as healthy as possible. Each one of these categories has a few critical areas that can make a huge difference in your overall comfort and health at work. This isn’t meant to be absolutely comprehensive, such as when I do worksite evaluations or give presentations on these topics, but it gets you most of the way there.
Posture is a cool term. It reflects our attitude towards life and it dictates our comfort through the day. Gravity is always there, pushing down on us, and if we are in less than ideal, anatomically-correct skeletal alignment, we undergo mechanical stress to our biologic tissues that ultimately results in strain, pain, injury, and BREAKDOWN. Stand in front of a mirror. First, take a minute to say “Hey, I’m awesome” because if you are reading this, you certainly are! Then, imagine a line going down through the center of your forehead, your nose, your chest, and ultimately landing between your feet. You want equal halves of your body on either side of the line. Then turn sideways and imagine that line roughly going through your ear, shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, and ankle. Having a forward head, rounded shoulders, or overly arched back can be problematic. Finally, invision looking down at yourself from above, and check to make sure you are not twisted or rotated out of a symmetrical position. A lot of minor postural issues can simply be addressed by taking a look like this and making some subtle corrections.
Sitting. Some say it’s the “new smoking.” This may be true if you sit for long periods in poor positions, but some sitting can be tolerated if you do two simple things. The first is to not actually sit for too long, as in minutes, not hours. Switch up your sitting position, stand often, get up and move around the office…whatever it takes to not become a rigid, fixed statue of agony in your chair. The other sitting fix is all about the angles of your body. The ankles, knees, elbows, and hips should be near 90 degrees. The spine should be aligned with the good posture we just reviewed. The wrists should be slightly extended, or cocked up, and desk/keyboard arrangements should facilitate this component. Monitors should be straight ahead and at eye level, and frequently used items such as a mouse or adding machine should not require awkward reaching or bending to access.
With the aforementioned information considered, I will disclose that I stand about 90% of the time. Standing workstations, as long as you sway and move a little, are much easier on the body than sitting, provided you have the posture and other items aligned properly. You don’t need a treadmill desk and your setup does not have to be fancy or expensive. But do note this…any change takes a little time for the body to get used to it. Several years ago when I switched to a nearly full-time standing workstation (“cold turkey), my legs were tired for a few weeks. No big deal but, a reality to be aware of and this goes away if you stay with your standing. Just don’t stand dead still. March and dance (with joy) as you work.
Workflow is that magical way in which we go through our day. Don’t multi-task. It doesn’t work and research proves this over and over again. Focus on one thing and get it done. Avoid distractions, whether that’s excessive noise, clutter, or various social media feeds when you really need to get things done. Consider chunking email or other habits into specific blocks if you don’t really need to be connected constantly (we all have to ask ourselves that question). Use interval methods of output. This is just as effective in the workplace as in sports training and numerous studies support doing intense work, then a short break…lather, rinse, repeat, is WAY more effective than a dull, steady burn of blah-blah mediocre effort. Get outside for even a few minutes and get some sun with a short walk. Great for circulation but also scientifically proven to grow your brain (enhanced brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the hippocampus) and improve learning, concentration, and problem-solving ability. Be nice to people, and yourself. This is powerful.
Activity is perhaps the key and it does not need to be sophisticated. Save your intense workouts for the gym, but use all those breaks and intervals to perform random movements that feel right for you. Drink enough water. Not only does this keep you hydrated, it helps to remind you to take breaks, either to go to the water cooler or to hit the restroom. And, when and where you can, consider a brief, 10-15 minute nap that has been shown to provide a cognitive “re-set”.
These are all simple and effective tips that can help us not just survive our workday, but to actually thrive in it. If you’d like a more thorough guide of how to optimize your workstation, I just published a class on Skillshare entitled “Creating a Healthy Workstation”, that goes through this information in detail. It’s a fun class that has several short lessons and it can really help you with your personal ergonomics. As a subscriber to The Lifetime Body Newsfeed, you can enroll in my class, as well as many others, with a free one-month membership to Skillshare. I hope this information can help you be healthier because of how and where you work, as opposed to trying to do so in spite of it. Cheers!