Digital Crave

Is your computer killing you? Check out these ‘ergonomic’ tips

Digital Crave

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Quickly calculate how much time you spend in front of a computer per day. Be honest.

If you work on a PC or Mac, it could be half of the time you're awake.

According to a 2010 American Time Use Survey — published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — office workers spend an average of 7.5 hours a day at the computer. A Microsoft Hardware study from the same year found similar results, with nearly half of those surveyed said they were spending more than eight hours a day toiling on a computer.

And that's just at work — what about Facebooking when the kids go to bed? Downloading music from iTunes? Clicking through a little Bejeweled? Looking at photos?

If this sounds familiar, you bet your bitmaps there are health concerns with being so attached to our computers. And so take heed to these following ergonomic tips to healthier computer use, whether it's during 9 to 5 or 5 to 9 (or both).

Nice mice

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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 very comfortable to you. Mice should have a curved hump that fits the contours of your palm. Be sure to try it out the mouse first at retail before you buy, even if you decide to buy it online at a later time. Many today are designed for both left- and right-handed users.

Wireless mice might provide fewer movement restrictions on how to use it on the desk. When you use a mouse, try to limit your wrist limit — instead, move your forearm, and with your elbow pivoted.

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.

The key(board) to success

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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 (OK, so it's not ideal for an airplane). Keep in mind, netbooks 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.

Have a seat

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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.

Both your feet should be flat on the floor — vertically challenged folks 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. 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.

Those who work from home should resist working on a laptop while reclined on a sofa or in bed.

Use adequate overhead lighting so you're not straining your eyes to see the monitor. If the font is too small, enlarge it to avoid eye strain or headaches.

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.

Stand up for yourself

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.

Look away from your monitor every couple of minutes and close your eyes every few moments to give them a break, too.

Have any of your own "ergo" tips to share? Feel free to post them in the Comments section below.

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