The paleo lifestyle and ergonomics

I recently read an article that included ergonomics as part of the paleolithic lifestyle.  At first I was baffled – how does changing your diet to eat like a caveman correspond with ergonomics?  But as I did some more research, I found out more about the paleo lifestyle and I agree that ergonomics does play a part.

The paleolithic lifestyle has arisen from the thought that it is more natural for humans to live like cavemen did for millions of years than how we live now in the Neolithic or agriculture era which has only been around for 10,000 years.  It is thought that if we adopt the lifestyle of a hunter-gatherer, there will be less obesity, cardiovascular disease, allergies, depression, and chronic stress due to healthier foods and being more active.

One of the cornerstones of ergonomics training is not to stay in one position or movement for too long.   The body is meant to be active in a variety of postures and movements, and staying in one position or movement for too long causes health problems.  These problems stem namely from reduction in blood circulation (which results in muscle cramping and strain on the tissues of the body) and from overuse (repetitively stressing the muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. of the body).  On a longer term basis, this can result in musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic low back pain as well as diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.

So what can you do to adopt a more paleo lifestyle using ergonomics?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Move – If you sit all day, take standing breaks.  If you stand all day, take sitting breaks.  People who work in an office environment on the computer should get up from their chairs every 30 minutes.  People who stand at work should have a place to sit down every 30-60 minutes to give their bodies a break.  These breaks in posture don’t have to be long – even 30 seconds helps – but they do have to be as frequent as possible.  They should also involve additional body movement – circle your shoulders, swing your arms, and twist from side to side.
  • Change position – If you can’t get away from your chair, move in your chair.  Sit forward, sit back, cross your legs, uncross your legs, slouch, sit up, lift your bum off the chair and lower to one side or the other.  If you have to keep standing, move your hips around, raise one knee up at a time, swing legs to the side or across the body.  Don’t forget your neck, shoulders, and arms – raise, lower, circle, and stretch.
  • Change, add, or take away equipment – People who sit all day should consider a sit-stand workstation so they can change positions.  Another option is sitting on an exercise ball for 10 minutes out of every hour (I don’t recommend using an exercise ball exclusively because using it for too long puts a strain on your back muscles).  People who stand in one place all day should consider using a 6 inch footrest so they can prop up one foot or the other periodically during the day.  If you can, go barefoot or shoeless occasionally.
  • Surround yourself with nature – Wherever you work, try to involve nature.  Bring plants or rock arrangements to your workplace.  Hang pictures of mountains, forests, or the ocean – even pictures have been found to provide the healing effects of nature.  Go for a walk during your lunch break – try to go where there are lots of trees, grass, rocks, or water.  Make sure to bask in the sun for a bit too.

I’m sure everyone can agree that anything that we can do to help prevent disease is worth trying.  The paleo philosophy of keeping active and staying in tune with nature corresponds with the ergonomic principle of working in a variety of different postures and movements – these are things I think we can all see the benefit in.

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Computer ergonomics when working from home – Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about how to set up a more comfortable working environment at home by suggesting equipment and what heights and distances the equipment should be at.  In this post, I would like to speak about the second part of working at home ergonomics:  posture and work organization.  Here is a list of tips aimed at you and your body that will help you in the home office:

  1. Avoid “chicken neck” – Many people sit in front of the computer, leaning forward with their head and chin pulled into the monitor as though they can’t see it.  As you can imagine, this posture is very tough on the neck and shoulders.  First off, make sure your monitor is at the right distance – if it’s too far away, you can’t help but lean in to see it.  Then make sure the font is not too small, and increase it if it is.  And if those aren’t the problems, monitor your posture.  Set a timer and check for chicken neck every 15 minutes.
  2. Perfect posture – All you have to do to have impeccable posture is to imagine you are a puppet.  Pretend there is a string attached to the very top of your head and imagine that that string is pulling you up.  When this happens, you will automatically stop slouching, stop rounding your shoulders, and your chin and head will come into perfect alignment with your spine.  As with chicken neck, set a timer to be a puppet.
  3. Sit properly – Many people who work at home sit down in front of the computer periodically throughout the day “just to take care of a few things”.  This is all fine and good, but the problem is with how they sit which is usually perched on the front edge of their chair without resting their back against the backrest. Try to resist this posture because before you know it, you’ll be 15 minutes in and your back/neck will start protesting.  If you plan to be any longer than one minute at the computer, make the effort to sit down properly with your back against your back rest and your chair pulled in.
  4. Relax – Most people when they are rushed or are on a deadline will hunch up their shoulders and lean into the computer.  I think it makes us feel like we will work harder!  Try to relax instead and save the energy you put into that hunched up posture for work itself.
  5. Move around a lot – One of the luxuries of working at home is that you can take as many breaks as you want (as long as the work gets done of course!).  Take advantage of this by getting up from your chair frequently.  Go and fold that laundry for a standing and moving break, then come back to your desk.  Do a few yoga poses or just move:  circle your arms and roll your shoulders.  Don’t forget to take a short walk at lunch – this has physical, mental, emotional and social benefits all rolled into one.
  6. Avoid “hovering” – When you’re at the computer, there is a surprising amount of pause time when you are not keyboarding or mousing, but rather reading the screen or thinking.  During these pauses, many people hover their hands over the keyboard or mouse in anticipation of their next move.  Unfortunately this requires muscular effort when you could be resting your hands, wrists, and forearms and giving them a much needed break.  During these times, put your hands in your lap, down by your sides, or drape them over the keyboard and/or mouse so that they are completely relaxed.

As you can see, working from home does not have to be an ergonomic nightmare and can actually be beneficial.  Take advantage of the benefits that working from home offers to be happy, healthy, and injury free.