How to combat a sedentary work life

As an IT professional and “white-collar warrior,” there are days where I bounce around from one area to another, barely spending time at my desk. However, there can be days where I spend hours staring at a computer screen, barely moving. Before I began my career in Information Technology, I wouldn’t have considered working at a desk on a computer “back-breaking” by any means. I don’t think any guy has ever been successful impressing the ladies using, “Hey check out this wrist brace, it’s for my carpal tunnel. These bad boys can type 70+ words per minute, no big deal.” Obviously, manual labor of any kind is more “back-breaking” than office work, but it still surprised me the first time I noticed back pain after an exciting day of responding to emails, slaying support tickets and revising “the heck” out of policies.

The 21st Century has been defined as the “Information Age”. Simply put, more and more of our lives take place on a digital front through the use of computers, cell phones, and tablets. As we spend more hours interacting with these digital devices, we are realizing health risks associated with their extended use. In fact, according to a study performed by the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org/myacs/illinois/do-not-just-sit-there), women who sit for 6 or more hours per day face a “37 percent greater risk of death compared to those who sat for three hours or less.” For men sitting 6 or more hours daily the risk was still 17 percent higher than those who sat for less. For those who didn’t regularly exercise the mortality rate was even greater, “94 percent higher for women and 48 percent higher for men.”

Objectively, this means we should be sitting less, but the problem is we are sitting MORE. Additionally, extended computer use can result in eye strain, headaches, tendinitis, and something pretty scary sounding called musculoskeletal disorder. So while it can be easy to marginalize the negative impacts of sitting at a computer all day, they are actually a very real problem.

Fortunately there are several changes that we can make that reduce the negative health risks from extended computer use.

Use good posture

According to OSHA (www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/positions.html):

Hands, wrists, and forearms are straight, in-line and roughly parallel to the floor.

Head is level, or bent slightly forward, forward facing, and balanced. Generally it is in-line with the torso.

Shoulders are relaxed and upper arms hang normally at the side of the body.

Elbows stay in close to the body and are bent between 90 and 120 degrees.

Feet are fully supported by the floor or a footrest may be used if the desk height is not adjustable.

Back is fully supported with appropriate lumbar support when sitting vertical or leaning back slightly.

Thighs and hips are supported by a well-padded seat and generally parallel to the floor.

Knees are about the same height as the hips with the feet slightly forward.

Increase movement

Take the stairs whenever possible.

Walk on your lunch or during your break.

Stand up and stretch every hour or as frequently as possible.

Physically visit a co-worker instead of emailing them a question.

Alternate tasks to avoid repetition

Reduce eye strain with proper lighting and monitor positioning

Take frequent visual breaks from the computer.

Implementing these changes are a good step towards improving your overall health and mitigating the risks associated with extended computer use.

Editor’s note: Taylor Makela is the IT manager at Baraga County Memorial Hospital.