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Do you work at a desk? Read this!

desk workMe, too. I work at a computer most of the time, sometimes for 12 hours a day. This is on my mind, because I spent all of August at home. I scheduled a 7-week hiatus from my usual travel schedule, in fact.

I almost went crazy. I actually love to write, don’t get me wrong. But I tasked myself with writing an entire book in a month or so. That’s intense. How to Eat Right In The Real World comes out Jan. 1. And starting in September, I had a lot of travel and other work tasks. So I figured I better buckle down and knock the draft out.

I chained myself to the computer for 7 weeks.

And at the end of July, I broke my pinkie toe. Down in the joint, which takes a long time to heal. Playing a lot of tennis, and taking my ball machine over to the courts to hit, would break up my day. That was the plan to get through August. Till my being unable to wear a SHOE for six weeks derailed that.

I did write 110 pages of my book by Aug. 31, which is great. But sometimes I would feel the compression in my back, from too many hours at a desk. Thankfully, and I’ll tell you why in a minute, I don’t have actual back pain, like I did for many years of my life, particularly in my cervical vertebrae. When I was 5 years old, I was in a car accident with a hit-and-run drunk driver. (I was not wearing a seatbelt. Was anyone, in the 1970’s?)

I want to talk about two major issues, for those of us who work at a computer fulltime, and what has helped a lot for me, that I hope helps you!

eye strainEye strain!

You don’t have to take a nap to get some “shut eye.” Research on eye health, and people who work at monitors, shows that all you have to do, to keep your eyes healthy, is take breaks. Even two minutes of keeping your eyes shut, is really helpful. Ten minutes are even better! While you’re talking on the phone, while you’re at work, get in the habit of SHUTTING YOUR EYES. Do it while you’re in the shower, too. (Maybe don’t do it while you’re driving your car or cooking at the stove.)

Back strain!

Schedule breaks in your day. Just use your meals, workout, errands, meetings, or conference calls as your breaks in computer work so you don’t work more than 60-90 minutes at a time. While I was working 12-hour days writing this book, I didn’t go to the gym first thing in the morning, which would be my normal preference. (That way I get it done early!) Instead, I worked a couple of hours when I got up at 7 am, and then went to the gym as one of my breaks. (Did yoga and wore flip-flops on the Arc Trainer or in a spin class, since running and tennis were out.)  This way I am not working for 4 or more hours at a time. Research shows 4 straight hours of the same task does not yield 4 hours of productivity. Nowhere close, in fact.

ergonomicsI got through college with an “A” GPA by utilizing this principle. My strategy was to start classes at 8 a.m., and because I don’t have the attention span for 6-hour study sessions (does anyone?), I scheduled 90 minutes of study between classes. It kept me on campus, walking from class to a study area re-energizing me. And it forced me to use those 1-2 hour breaks between classes for studying. Some of my college friends scheduled 4 classes in a row, and then they’d go home exhausted. They’d go home and crash, killing hours of productivity. Several of them dropped out or got terrible grades and had to repeat classes.

The research says to position your screen straight ahead, arm’s length away, avoid glare from windows or bright lights, and use good posture when you’re sitting. Use the “visor test” to see if the lighting in your workspace is a problem. Make a “visor” out of your hands, and if your eyes feel better, the lighting should be changed.

Do yoga!

I cannot overemphasize this. I have a completely different body now than I did when I was 20, because now I’m limber thanks to regular yoga. Being limber isn’t just about tantric sex, showing off, or avoiding injuries, which are associations many people make with it.

It actually affects your entire body’s health, and your emotional health too. I have often said that YOGA is how I survived my divorce. It also helps me survive the sometimes epic amount of responsibility and stress in my life. Truly almost more than anything (though my great diet, and essential oils are huge, too).

yogaYoga isn’t just for being bendy. It trains you to breathe appropriately, to be mindful of the connections between emotions, breath, and physical sensation, and overall helps a person become more grounded, relaxed, and present in the moment.

You may say that you don’t have time to drive to a yoga studio and do 60 minutes. Sometimes I don’t either. Especially when I’m on the road. But I do yoga in airports and in my hotel room. In the airport, I try to find a place behind something, where everyone can’t watch. (But mostly, I just don’t even care if they do. Pretty sure this embarrasses the employee or friend I’m traveling with, sometimes.)

Often I get out of my seat on the plane, go to that place in the middle of the plane (or first class, if I am lucky enough to get an upgrade), where the bathrooms and drink-prep station are, and do a bunch of yoga where no one can see, except occasionally a flight attendant. It improves my energy and is always a good use of 5-10 minutes.

Side stretches, one arm over my head, back bends, forward folds, holding one foot behind you with both hands, are pretty unobtrusive and easy to do in a small space.

But maybe most importantly, if you work at a desk:

standing-deskWhen you take a phone call, GET UP OUT OF YOUR CHAIR. This takes some mental training, for a while, to remember to do this. If I take a phone call, I do it STANDING. Because I work at home, if the weather’s nice, I take my phone calls outside. I even go out there if I see I have several text messages to answer. Then I’m getting Vitamin D, AND I’m doing yoga stretches, while I’m doing work I have to do anyway. Multi-tasking at its finest. That’s three things you’re accomplishing with one phone call. And two of those are good for your health!

Probably the pose I spend the most time in, when I’m on the phone, is the forward fold. You’re standing upright (with your feet shoulder width apart, or sometimes I do it in a straddle). Bend forward until your head is upside down and hands are as flat on the floor as possible. Being upside down briefly is really good for blood and lymph flow, and resting and decompressing your spine.

I feel SO much better if I just take a few minutes to bend and stretch, move my muscles, a few times a day. This is one of the ways you avoid using stimulants, falling asleep at your desk, and hating your day.

So remember, to keep your spine limber, your brain sharp, and your eyes rested, anytime you are not doing a task that involves looking at your screen or typing, GET OUT OF YOUR CHAIR.

Stand to take your phone calls. Walk around. Do yoga. And keep your eyes closed for a few minutes.

These are really simple ideas. But they can truly make an enormous difference in your health. And they cost you literally nothing. (chiropractor care, back surgery, and eye surgery aren’t as free.) I hope you will start making them new habits!