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Computer-related health issues

Like many people today, I spend most of each day working in front of a computer screen… and then in my own time I surf the internet and interact with friends via the various social networking sites. Apart from any other health risk that computers pose, they can be quite addictive – and that can lead to an unhealthy imbalance between computer time and exercise time.

A computer may not look particularly dangerous, but it can harm your back, neck, wrists, eyes, circulation, heart and mental health if not used properly.

The position in which you sit, and its relationship to the position of the computer, is crucial to avoiding muscular and skeletal strains. If you use a computer a lot, it’s well worth seeking out an in-depth guide to setting up your chair and computer correctly. This will give you fairly precise angles and distances for optimal comfort and health.

In general terms, you should be sitting upright. That’s always best for your back. Your thighs should be at 90 degrees to your spine and your feet should be flat on the floor, so you will need a seat that’s height-adjustable.

A good-quality, purpose-designed office chair that supports your back is the best option, and padded, adjustable arms are a bonus.

The monitor needs to be about an arm’s length away. With your head upright, and looking straight forward, the screen should be about 15 to 30 degrees below your line of sight.

Your keyboard should be positioned so that you can reach the keys easily with your forearms at 90 degrees to your spine. A wrist pad, to support your hands when they are not typing, is a useful additional aid to avoiding strain.

For the sake of your eyes, make sure you have no lights shining into them or onto the screen. Adjust the contrast and brightness, and where possible the size of the text you are reading, to avoid eye strain. Try also to take breaks, so you are not staring into the screen constantly for hour after hour.

You should also, of course, have a regular eye examination and tell your optician if you spend a lot of time at the computer as it could affect your prescription for glasses.

However comfortable and ergonomic your seating arrangement is, it can never be healthy to sit down all day. Make sure you take a short break, perhaps every half an hour, to get up, walk around and let your blood circulate properly. Have a healthy glass of water at the same time. Simple stretching exercises, even while sitting, will also help.

The kind of work that people do at a computer can be quite stressful. When things go wrong with the functioning of the computer, as I find they often do, stress levels increase further. The combination of high stress with low levels of physical exercise is a recipe for heart problems, so that’s another good reason to get up and walk about regularly.

On a positive note, computers give us access to some great advice on how to keep healthy – so let’s use them wisely.