Your Health and Your Computer

Summer 2009 CSANews Issue 71  |  Posted date : Jul 21, 2009.Back to list

Did you know that learning how to work on your computer and navigate the Internet is not the most important part of computing? The fact is,your working environment could be hazardous to your health if you neglect the simple tasks outlined below.

Using your body in a comfortable, not awkward, posture is important, whether you are working or playing. Not only can this affect your overall productivity, it can also influence how comfortable you are while using your computer and may help you avoid health and muscle problems. Keep in mind that changing your posture during extended tasks may also help you avoid discomfort and fatigue. When working or playing on the computer, adapt your surroundings and arrange your computing equipment to promote a comfortable and relaxed body posture. Because everyone has a unique body size and work environment, I cannot tell you exactly how to set up your workstation to avoid discomfort; however, the following suggestions may help to provide you with a more comfortable environment.

Support your back

Choose a chair that provides good support for your lower back. Invest in a good-quality office chair with adjustments that will suit your body type. Adjust your work-surface height and your chair to assume a comfortable and natural body posture.

Promote comfortable leg posture

Clear away items from beneath your desk to allow comfortable leg positions and movement. Use a footrest, if your feet do not rest comfortably on the floor.

Minimize reaching and promote comfortable shoulder and arm posture

Place your keyboard and mouse or trackball at the same height; these should be at about elbow level. Your upper arms should fall relaxed at your sides. When typing, centre your keyboard in front of you with your mouse or trackball located close to it. Place frequently used items comfortably within arm's reach.

Promote proper wrist and finger posture

Keep your wrists straight while typing and while using a mouse or trackball. Avoid bending your wrists up, down or to the sides. Use the keyboard legs if they help you maintain a comfortable and straight wrist position. Keep your hands and wrists floating above the keyboard when you type. You can then use your whole arm to reach for distant keys, instead of stretching and straining your fingers. Use a mouse pad with a "gel" cushion rest for maximum comfort.

Minimize neck bending and twisting

Centre your monitor in front of you. Consider placing your documents directly in front of you and the monitor slightly to the side, if you refer to your documents more frequently than your monitor. Otherwise, the monitor should be centred in front of you. Make sure that the monitor is straight and not tilted forward so that you do not put a strain on your eyes or your neck. Consider using a document holder to position your documents near eye level and make sure that the top of the screen is also near eye level. Bifocal wearers may need to lower the screen or talk to a qualified health professional about glasses customized for computer work.

Minimize eyestrain

Place your monitor at a distance of about an arm's length when seated comfortably in front of the monitor. Avoid glare by placing your monitor away from light sources that produce glare, or use window blinds to control light levels. It's best to have a light source, such as a window, behind the monitor to avoid glare. Remember to clean your screen. If you wear glasses, clean them also. Adjust your monitor brightness, contrast and font size to levels that are comfortable for you.

Go lightly

Type with a light touch, keeping your hands and fingers relaxed, as it takes little effort to activate keyboard keys. Also, use a light touch when clicking a mouse button or when using a joystick or other gaming controller. Avoid resting your palms or wrists on any type of surface while typing. The palm rest, if provided, should only be used during breaks from typing. Relax your arms and hands when you are not typing. Do not rest on edges, such as the edge of your desk. Hold the mouse with a relaxed hand. Do not grip the mouse tightly. Adjust your chair so that the seat does not press into the back of your knees.

Take breaks

Taking breaks can go a long way in helping your body recover from any activity and may help you avoid muscle problems. The length and frequency of breaks that are right for you depend on the type of work which you are doing. Stopping the activity and relaxing is one way to take a break, but there are others. For instance, just changing tasks – perhaps from sitting while typing to standing while talking on the phone – can help some muscles relax while others remain productive.

Vary your daily activities and work productively

Plan your work and play so that no one activity is performed for extended periods of time. Use different input devices, such as your mouse and keyboard, to accomplish the same task. For example, to perform a scrolling task, you can use the wheel on the mouse or the arrow keys on the keyboard. Work more efficiently by using software and hardware features to reduce your effort and increase your productivity. For example, you can press the Windows logo key to open the Start menu. Try using "Keyboard Shortcuts" to cut down on time. Contact me to send these to you by e-mail. Learn about software and hardware features by reading the information that came with your software programs and hardware products.

Pamela Tabak specializes in Computer Help for Mature Users. For solutions to computer problems, please visit her website at

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