Like most people, I’ll probably be at a desk job for the majority of my career. One aspect of office life that concerns me is the health risks that come from working on a computer all day. Am I just complaining or do our sedentary desk jobs seem to be slowly affecting our health? Maybe I’ll just get used to it—the hunched-over back, weary eyes, and aching wrists. Does my body have to suffer as I work toward my career goals?
I took my worries to Jennifer Shadden, an occupational therapist  and ergonomics consultant . “Ergonomics is an essential area that every company should address. As a hand therapist and ergonomist, I am seeing more people at younger ages develop repetitive strain injuries. It is important to take preventative measures to reduce the risks of injuries.”
She stressed the importance of taking preventative action now. Our bodies are built to move, not sit at a desk for eight-plus hours a day. The combination of repetitive motions and postural strain—a direct result of a desk job—can cause a variety of musculoskeletal disorders.
By incorporating a few simple exercises into our daily routines, we can counteract the negative effects of prolonged—and seemingly neverending—computer work.
1. Practice the 20/20 Rule for Weary Eyes
Shadden told me about the 20/20 rule, which requires looking away from the computer screen every twenty minutes, for twenty seconds, at an object that is about twenty feet away. This gives our eyes time to relax and blink. Staring at a computer screen can cut in half the number of times we blink every minute, which can lead to irritating dryness, redness, and tearing.
2. Make Your Mouse Float
Rather than moving just the wrist while using a computer mouse, Shadden recommends moving the entire arm, as if trying to make the mouse float. Throughout the day, double check and make sure your computer mouse is close to the side of your body, which allows your upper arm to relax.
3. Adjust Your Work Station
Shadden makes these suggestions for a healthy work station:
- The computer screen should be at eye level.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor, or on a foot rest, so that your knees are at a 90 degree.
- The keyboard tray should be lower than your desk and just above your knees.
- The back of your chair should fit the lower natural back arch. Focus on proper posture.
4. Take a Microbreak
A microbreak is defined as a thirty- to sixty-second break taken every thirty minutes. The beauty of the microbreak is that we don’t even have to leave our desks, and some simple exercises can help bring us back to life when we’re feeling weary. Try these body stretches  from shelterpub.com and consider alternating exercises for variety on your microbreak. Frequent movement is key.
5. Get out of the Office
According to a recent study , over 25 percent of us eat lunch at our desk every single day, which defeats the entire purpose of having a lunch break. Leaving the office on our lunch break is a great way to break up the day and get moving. After all, sunlight and fresh air are essential for all of us; fluorescent office lights aren’t. Force yourself to take at least a twenty-minute walk every day. It will bring up your energy level and reduce stress, making you even more productive. Your boss can’t argue with that.
6. Balance Work and Play
The desk job cuts into our hours of physical exercise and can, over time, lead to weight gain and obesity, as well as musculoskeletal disorders. Balance the amount of hours you sit at a desk with the hours of exercise and keep it consistent. Your body will thank you.
7. Keep Laptop Time to a Minimum
After a long day of staring at a computer screen, the last thing any of us need is to go home and start surfing the net again on our laptop—but many of us do it anyway. Not only are our eyes weary from a long day’s work, but the monitor and keyboard of most laptops are so close together that it makes it impossible to position ourselves appropriately. Set aside some time at the office to do online tasks like paying bills, checking personal email, or social networking.
8. Get Your Boss on Board
Meet with your boss or the HR person at your company to discuss ergonomics. Providing ergonomic equipment means fewer workers’ compensation claims and increased productivity. “Everything we do can be summed up in the phrase: good ergonomics is great economics,” says Alan Hedge , an authority on office ergonomics. “More than 90 percent of a company’s costs are people costs, so making small investments in improving the workplace by using good ergonomic products pays huge dividends.”
The bottom line is that none of us should just accept the aches and pains that come with the nine-to-five territory. By incorporating some of these simple tips now, we just might bring relief to our immediate aches, and more importantly, prevent more serious ones from happening later.