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Ergonomics Improve Personal Energy
By Gail Howerton   Printer Friendly Version

When my friend Sharon told me she was an Industrial Hygienist, I had no idea what that term meant. Did she do dental work in manufacturing areas? I found out that she deals with the workplace environment to ensure a safe and comfortable place of employment. Ergonomics is one of her fields and is essentially the study of what makes our bodies most comfortable in relation to light, sound, movement, temperature, air quality, and our furniture. Since the average office worker now sends and received 52 phone messages, 36 e-mails, 36 pieces of mail, 14 faxes, and 8 pager messages per day; we need to be comfortable doing all these things.

Here are some insider secrets on how ergonomics can help increase your personal energy and your health while you are at your office so you don't have to go home from work exhausted. Posture, type of furniture, work organization, and other personal space practices all work together to affect fatigue, stress, strains, or injuries. Follow these pointers and you will have more energy left over at the end of the day to play with your kids, your pets, your partner, or your friends. And playing as hard as we work is what leads to a balanced life with less stress and more fun since our work hours have increased by 20% and our leisure time has decreased by 32% since 1973, we need to make the most out of what leisure time we have and be sure we have the energy to enjoy it.

Have a seat:

  • Working for long periods of time without a break in an uncomfortable position can lead to headaches, eye-strain, and loss of concentration. Moving within your range of comfort zones and various postures is good for your spine, muscles, joints, and circulatory system. Get up and stretch to get the blood flowing into your limbs and to allow your left brain and right brain to integrate more readily by focusing on something else for a while. You will come back refreshed.
  • Find your various comfort zones which may include standing or a more upright posture when speaking on the phone to enhance the voice by opening up the diaphragm. It may include a more relaxed position when using the computer. I find myself doing all my writing on my comfy couch on a lap desk, while my antique writing desk goes untouched for that purpose. I can't seem to get creative while sitting at a slant-top desk. Use what works best for you.
  • Your chair should be of comfortable height with your fee firmly planted on the floor or on a footrest. Shorter people may have back strain if their feet cannot touch flatly on the floor since their backs must arch to get their feet to touch. Footrests can alleviate such a strain - this goes for airplane seats, buses, bleachers etc. I have found a box of copy paper or a file box is just the right height for someone 5' 2"!
  • The backs of your knees and the underside of your thighs should be free of pressure with enough space under your desk for your knees and thighs to clear should you cross your legs or decide to use a footrest.
  • Your lower back should be supported. If you are in a hotel room - use the blanket draped over the back of the desk chair and a pillow or rolled towel behind the lower part of your back. There are also portable back pillows for conferences and road trips to help support your back. Your mother was right - avoid slouching forward as it impedes breathing and fatigues the back.
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed with your hands, wrists, and forearms aligned in a straight, neutral position. If you use armrests, your shoulders should be relaxed with your elbows in near your body when they are resting on the chair. Your forearms should make a 90 degree angle to your upper arm when poised at the keyboard to aid in bloodflow to the fingers. Avoid resting your hands and wrists on sharp edges which will impede circulation.

Technical Difficulties:

  • Your computer keyboard should be directly in front of you and sometimes it may be in your lap to change positions. Your hand should be relaxed when holding the mouse and if you are not actively using it, rest your hand elsewhere. Practice typing and clicking with a light touch and clean your tracking mechanism regularly so it moves effortlessly. Your keyboard slope should allow your wrists to be straight.
  • Do you refocus your eyes intermittently on distant objects or get up and walk around to give your eyes a rest. Position your monitor to avoid glare on the screen - by reducing ceiling lights, or positioning the monitor between lights, or by using a glare-reduction filter. If you wear bifocals, avoid tilting your head back to see the monitor. Your monitor should be about arm's length from your face just below eye level, and directly in front of you or a bit to the side if your document holder is the main thing you are focusing on in front of you. By properly positioning your monitor, you will reduce eye strain, and muscle fatigue in your shoulders and upper back.
  • After switching from a very active job to become a computer jockey, I noticed my arm going numb and tingling in the fingers. I found out from my chiropractor that I had huge knots in my shoulders from improper chair/desk height and from scrunching the phone between my shoulder and my head. Even though you may take a break from the stresses which caused these ailments, the muscle knots do not go away on their own - you must have them worked out by a massage therapist. I have found freedom from tension knots by purchasing a cordless headset telephone and by having preventive massages on a regular basis. Sometimes we need to listen to our bodies when they tell us something is askew.

Lights, Sound, Action!:

  • Fluorescent lighting can cause headaches from the constant buzz and flicker. Natural light or full-spectrum lighting can increase your productivity by 255 and reduce headaches as well.
  • Avoid assaulting noises or sounds which disturb your natural rhythms. For some people white noise helps drown out unpleasant, distracting sounds. For others playing soft music with the tonalities of smooth jazz or classical is more energizing.
  • Getting fresh air during the day helps boost your energy along with getting some sunlight and vitamin D from the sunshine. A short walk outdoors will help breathe new life into your during the afternoon slump. Some buildings are known for their toxic air or sick building maladies. Oddly enough, the Environmental Protection Agency had some of the worst air in the country until they took steps to rectify it.

So Ergonomics plays a big part in personal energy - even though I could not find ergonomics in 3 of my dictionaries and thesauruses which were printed in the 1970's. We've come a long way in detecting what makes our bodies comfortable and most productive. In the end, it is an individual choice on what makes us comfortable. All we have to do is sit still long enough to really listen to it.


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