The average person spends over half of the day in a seated position. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased 83 percent since 1950. Combine that with the amount of time people spend in their cars during a commute and at home watching television and trying to relax, it doesn’t add up to much activity for our inactive bodies. Aligning your setup with ergonomic products can largely contribute to your occupational health in the office, as well as help you learn how to successfully work from home when given the opportunity.
On top of that, the digital era has negatively affected our posture and physical well-being due to poor ergonomics. Some risk factors include stiff necks, strained lower backs, and hunched shoulders, and are all common among adults who spend hours upon hours seated in an office chair in front of a screen. When considering which part of your body is affected by poor ergonomics, it’s easier to think about what part isn’t. Is this the ears? Feet? Wrist and fingers?
Since ergonomics affects the entire core, essentially everything eventually becomes affected. The neck is a main part of the body that suffers from poor ergonomics. It’s common to lean into the screen either by tilting the head up or down or jutting it forward and out of alignment. These repetitive movements and awkward postures puts stress on the vertebrae and leads to misalignment and pain when trying to accommodate. If screens are out of our central line of vision by even a few centimeters, this can cause undue tension and discomfort in our necks, particularly when this is the norm day after day.
The muscles and tendons in the back also suffer from poor ergonomics. Holding a sedentary posture for hours at a time creates stiffness and causes inflexibility, which could lead to injuries. When we do move, it can cause injury because our bodies aren’t used to even the simplest tasks like squatting down to pick something up or reaching up to a high shelf. Due to the hunching that affects the neck and shoulders, poor posture also compresses the spinal disks in the back leading to chronic pain.
The pain and discomfort continues down the rest of the body to the abdomen, hips, butt, and legs. Range of motion is limited, muscles begin to atrophy, and blood circulation begins to slow. Many people do not take enough breaks throughout the day to move around and stretch their joints, which also aggravates the problem of inactivity and ergonomics that are less than ideal. The body begins to adapt to the sedentary nature in unhealthy ways and eventually causes the mind to become sluggish and less productive overall.
Without proper attention to how you’re positioned in your work environment, it’ll also affect the wrists and forearms and cause carpal tunnel syndrome. This type of strain is painful and slows down hand movements required for nearly everything we do, particularly desk work. So what can be done since the world has become digital and a majority of jobs require at least part-time sitting behavior if not a full day of it?
The first way to improve ergonomics is by setting up an efficient work space, one that is conducive to the movements needed to maintain a healthy posture and proper functioning. The second is to schedule regular times for active breaks throughout the day. It’s recommended to get at least 30 minutes of physical exercise a day, which can be broken up into increments, if a consistent 30 minutes is not achievable on a daily basis. This is a good place to start protecting physical health and increasing a greater sense of well-being.
Setting Up an Efficient, Ergonomic Work Space
What does your typical work setup look like now? Is it cramped to the point where you aren’t able to move freely or modify your monitors as needed? Creating an ergonomic workspace requires finding the right chair, adjusting your monitors to meet eye level, and maintaining a desk height that allows your wrists and hands to rest parallel to the floor. Each element of your desk makes a difference in maintaining a good posture and favorable body positioning.
Start with your office chair. Whether you’re at home or sharing a workspace, choose a chair that allows you to sit with your feet resting flat on the floor with your legs parallel to the ground. Your knees should be close to an even level with your help. Make sure your chair has armrests to allow you to keep shoulders relaxed and enough cushion and support for your lower back and glutes.
Everything on your desk should be situated within easy reaching distance, especially your mouse and keyboard. Keep the wrists straight with the upper arms close to the body. Adjust your chair as needed to your desk height to achieve this posture. If you must use a desk phone regularly, opt for a headset instead to keep your neck upright and lessen the amount of stress.
Your computer monitor should be situated directly in front of you at eye level and at arm’s length away. It’s common for office workers to hunch forward, extending the neck out of alignment in order to see the monitor. Take notice of this and adjust as needed. It’s likely you need a monitor mount to change the height and tilt of your screen versus turning your neck and head to meet your needs. Also, ensure there’s adequate lighting that doesn’t cause a glare on your screen. If you find you’re squinting at your screen, a change is necessary to help alleviate strain on your eyes and nerves as well.
There are several options for monitor desk mounts for single, double, and even triple screens and more depending on what your work environment setup calls for. You can even learn how to use your computer monitor as a TV by installing a wall mount. Each can be adapted to desks that double as stand-up stations, which many office workers are beginning to use more frequently to improve their ergonomic positioning. The goal is to provide a space that allows you to switch things up as needed to your own posture and movement. Even for those professionals that have learned how to set up multiple monitors for gaming at home, they need to be especially cognizant of their ergonomic positioning as poor posture from remaining seated for hours on end could interfere with performance and focus.
Scheduling Time for Physical Activity
An improved ergonomic setup is ideal for sedentary workers, but regular physical activity is also required to keep the body flexible and limber. This can be difficult for busy schedules if there is no time set aside to take these breaks. If you’ve ever had a morning fly by as you power through the lunch hour, you know how challenging it can be to take even 10 minutes for yourself. However, this is important to your work and your body.
If you have a hard time remembering to take a break, schedule it on your calendar or set an alarm. You can also use a stand-up desk as an alternative or do a few stretches and repetitive movements at your desk if you’re truly strapped for time. An easy one to do is the seated leg raiser. While seated, alternate raising one leg at a time and hold in place for five seconds. Repeat this 15-20 times for a quick exercise while you’re sitting in a meeting or working at your desk. It's a simple exercise that goes a long way in terms of occupational health to keep your joints active and lessen the risk of injury.
When possible, a walk outside to get fresh air or an exercise class can get the body moving and the blood flowing. Regular breaks and physical activity to break up the day can strengthen your body and help with your posture and productivity. Certain activities like yoga are great, too, for a mind-body balance that’s helpful for physical and mental well-being. The movements are gentle on the muscles and bones, while increasing flexibility and strength in the core.
By scheduling breaks for stretching, walking, or simply standing as part of your regular routine, this helps to maintain your physical health that’s often suffering from poor ergonomics. Give your desk and body a reset by updating your area to maintain better ergonomics and scheduling time for yourself to take a break from sitting down as a part of furthering your occupational health. It’ll also give you a chance to fix your seating and monitor placement that may have become off-kilter from day to day. Creating better ergonomic habits will help your body feel better in the short-term and prevent future pain and injuries.
Using Tools and Technology Available to Help You Thrive
Setting up an ideal ergonomic office space means taking advantage of the tools and technology available. There are a number of desk designs and workstations that can be configured for space and preference specifications. By implementing the use of adjustable chairs, computer monitor mounts, and ergonomic keyboards, it all helps us to thrive in our work life and feel healthy and productive.
Take inventory of your current workspace and detail what’s missing or what you can do to improve your area. Ensure all desk items are within easy reach for you so you don’t have to stretch or strain your neck, shoulders, and arms to get what you need. This includes your keyboard, mouse, and computer screens. Also, take advantage of technology that allows you to walk around while still carrying on a conversation on the phone or performing office work while standing. Workplaces are adaptable now more than ever to meet people’s unique needs and contribute to the overall growth and productivity that makes a company successful.
After you’ve changed your setup to be ergonomically sound and start to schedule more time for physical activity and regular breaks, take note of how it changes your alertness and energy levels at work. Soreness, stiffness, and chronic pain will likely start to dissipate allowing you to perform better at your job and feel good. A few simple adjustments is often all it takes to get you set up in a way that allows you to thrive.