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.