Better Grad Student

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40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Days 15 & 16

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Once again, you get twice the goodness in a single post. So, hold onto your top hats and get ready because it’s going to be awesome!

Today’s double-post is about ergonomics. In this computerized world, a majority of the work-force sits in front of a computer for many hours a day, grad students included. This fact brings about its own set of hazards that  can cause serious health problems. Long days of data analysis / internet surfing can have your back and neck killing you. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like this as long as you take a couple of simple steps to help yourself.

The first tip of the day is focused on support and alignment. When you’re sitting in a chair, the biggest help you can give yourself is to have plenty of lumbar support. Many chairs don’t support the spine in its natural position. Adding a back pillow or having a chair with adjustable lumbar support will support your back and strengthen the muscles as well. The second biggest adjustment you can make that will help yourself is to align your work area to your body. This means that you need to have the monitor at eye level and directly in front of you. If you have a keyboard that has a numpad on the side of it, make sure you align the actual typing area, where the spacebar is, with the center of your body. It may seem more visually appealing to center the entire keyboard with your body, but it’s going to force you take an unnatural position to type. These two simple adjustments can save you a world of hurt in the long run.

The second tip of the day is about movement. One of the quickest ways to counteract the atrophy that occurs by sitting at a desk all day is to move periodically. Every 20 minutes or so, make sure you stretch and move about a bit so that your body doesn’t become tense from staying in one position too long. Some people have gone to exteremes to achieve this goal: the walking desk is one example. I prefer, however, to have my body tell me when it’s time to get up and move. I have a bottle of water that I drink from constantly and, of course, the ineveitable result of this is that I have to use the restroom more frequently. This is advantageous becuase it forces me to get up and move my body and I’m staying well hydrated throughout the day. Other options include setting a periodic timer or using a stability ball as a chair. (Side note: a stability ball will take care of the lumbar issue in tip one, but be prepared for some discomfort if you use it for many hours during the day. Your muscles will eventually strengthen to the point that you can use it often, but it may be uncomfortable at first.)

There are many other suggestions available on ways to improve your comfort at a your desk, but these are the two that I find to be the most effective. At some point in the future I would like to do a post about some of the stretches and exercises I do to counteract the negative side effects of sitting in a chair all day. Let me know in the comments if you have any favorite ways to deal with the perils of desk work!

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

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Written by Taylor M.

March 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm

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