Healthy tips for computer users

What seems like a lifetime ago, after I finished writing my first novel, I drove to a neighboring city to buy a manuscript box, fussed with the papers, folders, and labels, then took my precious package to the post office, where I was provided with a dilapidated old box that looked like it had been hauled out of a dumpster.

Believe me when I say that I am so grateful for the advances in technology! Gone are the days of callused fingers, ink smears, and snail mail. However, we now have a new litany of concerns and precautions. Whether you are writing a dissertation, a novel, a science article, or a college essay, you’re likely spending a lot of time at the computer. If you are a willing slave to technology, as I am, take some simple steps to ensure that you receive all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks.

Even the most comfortable positions can do more harm than good.

For your neck and back:

In order to avoid a stiff neck, try to keep your screen directly in front of you instead of at an angle. Interestingly, there seems to be some disagreement about the exact level of the screen; some articles suggest having it an inch or two above eye level, whereas others contend that the safest position is at eye level or slightly lower. Also, keeping your feet flat on the floor and your knees shoulder-width apart and at a ninety-degree angle will help to keep your spine aligned–that means fewer backaches.

For your hands, fingers, and wrists:

The key to comfort is adjustment. The mouse should be on the same level as your keyboard, and as close to it as possible. Don’t simply shift the mouse with your wrist; use your whole arm to move it. Ideally, your keyboard should be close to waist-height, with your arms at ninety-degree angles, so your elbows can rest comfortably at your sides. The biggest problem in this regard is the form of the laptop, as its monitor and keyboard are fused together; in other words, if the keyboard is in the right position, the monitor is too low, and if the monitor is in the right position, the keyboard is too high. One option is to use an external monitor for your laptop. Or, you could try a second keyboard. Meanwhile, keep in mind the position of your desk and chair–this is really a team effort! The Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center offers a helpful image here.

For your eyes:

Eye fatigue can result from looking at a brightly lit computer screen for too long. To prevent blurred vision and trouble focusing on distant objects, make sure your screen isn’t too close to your eyes and isn’t reflecting a glare into your eyes. Also, remember to look away from the computer from time to time and focus on something in the distance.

For a good night’s rest:

Avoid bright light that shines directly into your eyes, such as that from an IPad or a laptop. According to some reports, the light may trick your brain into thinking that it’s daylight which, for obvious reasons, creates a conflicting sleep schedule. If you are suffering from insomnia, try turning off the laptop an hour or two before bed, lessening the amount of blue light, or dimming the screen at night.

My own two cents:

Special keyboard

I found that an angled keyboard made all the difference for my wrists and fingers. I use an ergonomic keyboard, angled to the steepest level. It took a little while to adjust to the different position, but I find that it’s much easier (and painless) to use.

Switch between mouse and arrow keys

Sometimes the constant position or repetitive movement would cause pain in my fingers because I was holding the mouse for a long period of time without realizing it. By shifting between the mouse and the arrow keys, I am able to complete the same amount of work with less discomfort.

Shift positions

I sometimes didn’t realize that I’d been frozen in one position (except for my fingers) until it was too late, and I ended up having pins and needles. Now, I try to make a point of shifting my position regularly, whether I want to or not.

Get up!

Remaining in one position for long periods of time is simply unhealthy–for your body and your mind. As with video games, computer work can lull you into another dimension where time seems to stand still. Set a timer to remind yourself to get up, even if it’s to do a quick chore or get something to drink.

In Conclusion:

For a healthier relationship with your computer, consider the following areas:

  • keyboard level
  • monitor level
  • leg placement
  • mouse position
  • screen brightness

Concentration is hard to come by when you are in pain. These slight adjustments can make a tremendous difference to your level of comfort–now, and in the future.

What do you do to stay healthy when you’re working on the computer?