You’ve surely seen the the comic strip that has flooded the Internet and fronts of t-shirts depicting the evolution of man—first we’re apes, then upright man, then apes again as we spend more and more time hunched in front of a computer screen. With the overwhelming speed in which technology is being developed, most middle-class Americans now have desk jobs. And what’s more, many schools from grade schools to colleges and universities offer online courses or online degrees. Amazingly, you can get almost any kind of degree through online universities nowadays, from an MBA to Criminal Justice. We will all be spending all-too-much time in front of a computer, starting in early childhood all the way until we die. And the people who get the worst of it are all those wonderful computer geeks out there who regularly will spend 10-15 hours a day sitting in front of a screen.
So what can you do to keep from turning into an “ape”? First, you’ll need to know the signs that you’re on your way to looking like a modern-day Quasimodo. You know you have bad posture if: 1) you suffer from frequent neck, should, and back pain, especially while you work, 2) your hips and shoulders aren’t in line when you sit in your computer chair, and 3) people often mention to you that you slouch too much and are starting to look paler than a corpse. Here are five things you can do to keep your posture straight and avoid any long-term effects from too much sitting and hunching:
1. Prepare your desk area. There are positioning strategies for your keyboard, mouse and computer screen that will make it easier for you to sit up straight and avoid any uncomfortable slouching pain. Computer monitors should be about an arms length away, centered in front of you. Your eyes she be in line with the top area of the screen so you can see the entire screen clearly. The keyboard should be directly in front of you, at a distance that allows your elbows to stay close to your body and your wrists to stay straight as you type. Elbows should be about one to two inches above your hips. Mouse placement is arbitrary, depending on right-hand or left-hand laterality. One mouse-using tip is to use your whole are to move it and not just your wrist.
2. Invest in a good chair. Many computer chairs are designed especially to help you maintain good posture. Chairs backs should be shaped to give your lower back support as you lean back into the chair. Feet should be flat on the ground and knees extend two to three finger widths beyond the edge of the chair.
3. Pay attention. Paying close attention to your posture and body position while sitting at your desk can be a huge help in allowing you to break bad slouching habits. If you are having back, should, or neck pain at work, make an effort to notice if your posture is the culprit. Pay attention to how you are sitting. Shoulders and hips should be in line. Shoulders should not be hunched in front of hips, and vice versa. Make a conscious effort to position yourself correctly and keep your posture upright.
4. Take breaks. Our bodies weren’t made to be in a constant sitting position. Taking frequent breaks can relieve some of the tension in your body and reduce pain from improper sitting habits. It’s also important to give your eyes a break from the glare of the computer screen.
5. Exercise Daily. Our bodies need movement to stay healthy. Just as a general rule of health, you should be exercising at least a half hour a day. However, regular exercise can also have the benefit of strengthening your overall muscle tone and improve your sitting posture. You may also want to consider doing exercises while in your seat, such as under-the-desk leg raises or calf stretches.
Here’s to you, computer geeks! Who knows what we would do without you—which is exactly why you shouldn’t let yourself go to the point that your body starts to look like Jafar when he disguised himself as a hunched old man to get Aladdin out of the king’s dungeon.