Your computer might be important but your body is irreplaceable.
Take it from someone who is in front of their computer entirely too much. Healthy computer use is vital to me and should be vital to you, too. My time using my computer is obviously very important to me, hence you even reading this, but never at the expense of my physical well being.
Sitting in front of a computer is completely unnatural to our species.
Yet, at this point in our societal evolution, computer usage is not only ubiquitous, it’s practically mandatory. Productivity, education, entertainment, personal growth and yes, even physical fitness are all tied to these boxes now. You can’t get away from it, but you can take care of yourself while doing it.
Aside from the more drastic Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the more insidious ways computer time can cause you physical problems include: low back pain, neck pain, eye strain, disturbed sleep patterns and poor digestion. Our bodies did not develop through millions of years of evolution to be sitting on our butts.
The first step in healthy computer use is getting off of it with regularity.
The average American spends 7.5 hours looking at a screen daily, either the television or the computer. And I’m willing to bet that is done in long multiple hour spans. One of the simplest things you can do to prevent your body from being beaten up by your computer time is to schedule breaks.
Stretch Break, from Para Technologies, is the CNET Editors Choice for scheduled break software. Once installed, the options for set up include: time between breaks (I recommend no longer than 90 minutes), the number of stretches per break, whether to include standing stretches (YES!), music or no music and whether to show ergonomics tips at the end of every stretch break (YES). When the break comes, animated figures will demonstrate the stretches and there’s also a written explanation. The breaks also include eye exercises, which is great!
It’s free to try and $44.95 to buy. If you think $44.95 is expensive, think about this: according to the Mayo Clinic, back problems account for 25% of all visits to doctors! And last time I checked, medical bills are pretty expensive here in the US.
Another option to combat the issues of prolonged sitting is Darren Zeer’s Office Yoga.
I really like Darren’s work. Very cool 50’s style drawings and simple clear descriptions. The exercises and stretches in this book go beyond the office and include morning stretches, exercises for couch potatoes, even one for when you’re in an elevator. (That’s sure to garner some stares.)
Since this is a physical product and doesn’t get installed onto your computer, you’ll still need to ensure that you take the breaks to do these stretches. You can download this free Cool Timer program and set a timer for under 90 minutes, then pull out your book and do a few stretches.
Another important part of healthy computer use is taking care of your eyes.
One very bad thing about computer use is the lack of movement of the eyeballs and the lack of changes in focal point. Our eyes stay glued directly forward and the distance we’re focusing on remains constant. That is completely antithetical to our hunter/gatherer nature. This can cause a weakening of the eye muscles and a decrease in the ability to focus.
Eyetrainer.org is a great site with free eye strengthening and focusing exercises. The Near/Far exercise is one I’ve done for years. (I focus on my thumb, then a far wall.) I actually did notice my ability to focus decreasing recently, in my right eye more than my left. I used the Near/Far exercise, strengthened my right eye’s ability to focus and I haven’t had a problem since. This stuff really works. Yup, everything needs exercise, including your eyes.
The other aspect of taking care of your eyes is making sure you get proper sleep.
Yes, they’re related. In this Weekly Roundup, I discuss F.lux, a free program that adjusts the color spectrum of your screen to help you sleep better. Read up and download this very beneficial free program.
Computers are part of our lives, they’re here to stay.
But that doesn’t mean our health has to suffer. Take these few simple steps for healthy computer use and you’ll get to use your body freely, without pain.