Ergonomics and Wellness – Part 3 – Nutrition

Ergonomic risk factors arise when work tasks do not fit or exceed the capabilities of the worker.  I have written about how to change the physical work environment and tasks, but what can you do to increase your capabilities as a worker?  You should be able to work an 8-hour day without being extremely fatigued and without too much discomfort.  If this does not sound like your workday, consider making some changes:

3.  Nutrition –

Fueling your body regularly with good quality food is a big must to keep you energized throughout your work day.  Like a car, if you don’t refuel when the gas tank is empty, the car won’t run.  If you don’t refuel your body with food, it won’t run either.  You will feel sluggish and tired, putting your body at the risk of injury.

First off, you need to start your day with breakfast because your gas tank is empty after no food all night.  Aim to cover all four food groups (milk and dairy, meat and protein, fruit and vegetables, and grains).  Peanut butter and banana on whole wheat toast with milk is a great breakfast.  Also, whole grain cereal with nuts, milk, and berries is another good start.

Put aside the antiquated notion of three square meals a day.  Your body needs fuel every 3-4 hours.  Mid-morning and late afternoon snacks help bridge the gap to lunch and dinner.  Fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers, hard boiled eggs, raw veggies with hummus, yogurt – all great snack food.  If you are trying to count calories, make sure your lunch and dinners are smaller to compensate for the snacks.  It’s better to eat small, frequent meals rather than big, spaced-out meals so that your blood sugar levels don’t get low triggering fatigue.

And most importantly, make sure your food is good quality.  White bread doesn’t have as many nutrients or the fiber of whole grain bread.  Yogurt and granola bars with lots of sugar will give you an initial energy boost, but then you will “crash” (feel tired and lethargic) which can last several hours as your body works at clearing the sugar from your blood.  High-fat food such as fries and doughnuts will also leave you feeling sluggish as your body works to clear the fat from your blood.

Eating properly can make a world of difference as to how efficient and productive you are during the day.  Not only that, but you will improve your long-term health and reduce the risk of many diseases.  Bon appétit!

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Ergonomics and Wellness – Part 2 – Sleep

Ergonomic risk factors arise when work tasks do not fit or exceed the capabilities of the worker.  I have written about how to change the physical work environment and tasks, but what can you do to increase your capabilities as a worker?  You should be able to work an 8-hour day without being extremely fatigued and without too much discomfort.  If this does not sound like your workday, consider making some changes:

2.  Sleep –

Did you know that the 2008 Sleep in America poll by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that due to lack of sleep, 27 percent said that they frequently found it difficult to concentrate while at work and 20 percent acknowledged that their productivity at work was often lower than they expected? “Studies show that habitually getting inadequate sleep — less than seven or eight hours of sleep each night –- creates long-lasting changes to one’s ability to think and function well during the day,” said Thomas J. Balkin, PhD, co-chair of the poll task force and NSF vice chair.

Experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep a night.  Getting a good nights’ sleep is one of the best ways to stay energized throughout the day.  It will allow you to be much more productive at work and will allow you extra energy at the end of the work day to do the fun stuff you really want to do.

Sleep is also important for bodily repair.  If you have a physically demanding job, you need to get plenty of sleep to allow your body’s tissues to recover from the day.  If you don’t rest properly, you will start the next day not fully recovered.  This puts you at a risk for overuse and you will be more prone to injuries.

More information about sleep and how to get a good night’s sleep can be found at http://www.sleepfoundation.org

Ergonomics and Wellness – Part 1 – Exercise

Ergonomic risk factors arise when work tasks do not fit or exceed the capabilities of the worker.  I have written about how to change the physical work environment and tasks, but what can you do to increase your capabilities as a worker?  You should be able to work an 8-hour day without being extremely fatigued and without too much discomfort.  If this does not sound like your workday, consider making some changes:

1.  Exercise – As little as a 20-minute walk three times a week can improve your body’s efficiency and allow you to work with less fatigue.  For even more strength and endurance to last the work day, perform:

  • Cardiovascular exercise 4-5 times a week for 30 minutes – Running, walking, biking within your target heart rate range.  Target heart range for a 30-year old is 19-25 beats of your pulse in 10 seconds.  Find your pulse on the inside of your wrist below your thumb.
  • Weight training sessions 2-3 times a week for 30-45 minutes – Engage all the major muscles groups: chest, upper back, lats, biceps, triceps, deltoids, quads, hamstrings, glutes and core (abdominals).
  • Stretching – Stretch after each set when you weight train to condense your workout.  Or stretch at the end of your workout for a great, relaxing reward.

If you are new to exercising, make sure you keep at it for at least three weeks.  If you give up before then, you won’t feel the amazing energy and wellbeing you can achieve with regular exercise!

Cognitive Ergonomics

Most of the time ergonomics is portrayed as something that can help your physical environment.  For example, lumbar support in your car seat to maintain the natural curve of your spine, tools that have their grips at a right angle to maintain a neutral wrist position, and keyboard trays that adjust in height so that you can keep your elbows at a proper 90 degree angle.  But ergonomics is also something that can help you cognitively – that is, ergonomics can be used to help your brain understand things more clearly and quickly.  Take instruction manuals for example:  who hasn’t bought something that comes with a manual that is extremely hard to understand?  If ergonomics was a factor when that manual was written, it would have been written with the end user in mind (“fitting the task to the person, not the person to the task”).  Instructions manuals should be clear and concise without a lot of technical jargon.  The table of contents should have relevant sections that are easy to find and well marked.  Each section should be clearly marked and consistently started in the same way e.g. bold lettering within a lightly colored box.  Pictures and diagrams should be abundant.

Another example of cognitive ergonomics is exit signs on the highway.  If exit signs are not clear and the exit name/end location changes from sign to sign, it will be difficult for people to find their correct exit.  Without ergonomically designed signs that are consistent for each exit, combined with signs that announce the next exit; people are more apt to get lost.  People also become more dangerous drivers as they search for their exit because they are paying less attention to driving.  One last example to put it in to perspective:  if cars didn’t have a low gas flashing indicator on the dashboard, how many more cars would you see on the side of the road out of gas?